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I Will Fallow

A $62 million program arranged by federal and state agencies for land conservation has been initiated in New York state in the hopes of returning environmentally sensitive portions of farmland to a fallow state.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program was enacted last Wednesday (Oct. 29), and will provide incentives for farm owners to keep critical tracts of their land from being put to agricultural use. By allowing land that meets certain CREP criteria to lie fallow, the program hopes to achieve several major land- conservation and pollution-reducing goals, including the detoxification of local water and soil resources, which have been particularly affected by animal waste.

Payments made to the landowners provide the incentive to take part in CREP, explained Mark Dennis, spokesperson for the Farm Service Agency. The payments will be based on the “soil rental rate” of the affected land, which is determined by its yield over time.

“The average rental rate is about $40 per acre,” said Dennis, “but we’re going to provide around 145 percent of that as an incentive.”

The $62 million deal, which will finance the program through 2013, is underwritten by $10.4 million of state-sponsored Environmental Protection Fund provisions, with the remaining $52 million provided by the United States Department of Agriculture. In order for farm owners to enroll their land in CREP, the land must meet one of several qualifications, such as use in agricultural production during the last six years or the presence of a stream running through it. Farm owners whose land meets these criteria can agree to set aside this land from agricultural uses or development, and in turn receive a payment significantly higher than the land’s assigned value.

In addition to the financial incentives, agencies involved with the CREP will also provide services to farm owners whose qualified CREP land is necessary to the maintenance of their farm. Services might include the creation of alternate watering facilities for land with free-running water, for example. Isolating this type of land prevents farm animals from polluting water sources.

“We understand the limitations,” explained Dennis. “In this state, the fields are smaller, so we want to make sure there’s enough incentive to remove some of that land and enroll.”

—Rick Marshall

Passing Average

New facts released by the College Board show that average public four-year college tuition and fees in New York state are increasing well above the national average, according to an Oct. 31 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The College Board’s data show that the national average public college tuition and fees increase was 14 percent, while most of New York’s public four-year colleges had increases averaging 22 percent. The largest rate of increase for New York was at Binghamton University, with a rate of 24.1 percent. The University at Albany’s tuition and fees increased by 19.8 percent.

The findings have caused the New York Public Interest Group to call on Gov. Pataki to halt tuition increases and uphold financial aid programs in his executive budget proposal.

“The skyrocketing cost of a public- college education in New York is alarming,” said Miriam Kramer, higher education coordinator for NYPIRG. “The continued increase in price is an assault on the finances of New York’s students and their families. Now is the time for the governor to pledge to college students and their families that he will hold the line on tuition and maintain financial aid programs.”

Even with the tuition increase, Kramer pointed out, there is no surplus of money to benefit the students. The tuition money has been used to make up the loss from a 15-percent budget cut passed by the governor and the Legislature. “Basically, the students are paying more, but the services are staying the same or are decreasing,” said Kramer.

Dave Henahan, director of media relations for the State University of New York, stated that due to the “unprecedented fiscal crisis,” tuition had to increase to maintain SUNY’s operating budget. Henahan also said that in spite of the tuition increase, SUNY schools are seeing record enrollment. Preliminary data taken in September, by SUNY, estimated that statewide enrollment for the 2003-2004 school year exceeded its previous record by 410,000 students.

—Christen Deming

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