Recently, a column by Steve Lekwa was published in this paper with inaccurate claims regarding legislation that we recently co-sponsored, the Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work Act, or GROW Act.

The GROW Act attempts to tackle a problem that we hear about often as we speak to farmers and ranchers in every corner of the state. Young and beginning farmers are having an increasingly difficult time finding land to farm. This scarcity means fewer economic opportunities, which has a damaging impact on Iowa’s bright future.

Working with Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, and Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, this bipartisan legislation takes a hard look at the requirements of the Conservation Resource Program (CRP).

The intent of CRP is a good one – to improve soil health and enhance water quality to advance farm productivity and sustainability over the long term. However, it has unfortunately strayed far from this original purpose.

Now, whole farms are being enrolled into CRP because the government is paying top dollar for land — blocking out young farmers who cannot compete with the government when it comes to buying or renting farmland.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 25 percent of the 24 million acres enrolled in CRP are considered “prime” farmland, which is defined as “land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber and oilseed crops and is available for these uses.”

Prime farmland is valuable, and Iowans are paying the price.

Our bill would restore the integrity of the CRP while providing better access to productive land for farmers and ranchers. All of this is accomplished while keeping intact the acreage cap for CRP at its current enrollment level of 24 million acres. Importantly, the GROW Act also does not divert any funding or resources away from one conservation program to another, and to claim otherwise is simply false.

Among other things, the GROW Act refocuses a portion of the big three conservation programs, CRP, CSP and EQIP, to address critical issues related to our soil and water resources, while also creating wildlife benefits, providing conditions for improved aquatic and upland wildlife and fish habitat.

The bill not only encourages additional conservation buffers and waterway habitats through these conservation programs, but also increases the grasslands protection option within CRP, which we know is a high priority for the wildlife community.

There’s no arguing that CRP has an incredibly important role in conservation, and if implemented as intended by Congress, can have a significant impact on preventing erosion and protecting our precious land and resources. We want to preserve and protect this program, but like so many federal programs, its true intent has been compromised and it no longer functions as it should.

We are proud of the vast and bipartisan support the GROW Act has received, and hope it will become law to better protect our lands for generations to come.

^U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley