Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that USDA will enroll more than 800,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Through CRP, farmers and ranchers enter into 10- to 15-year contracts with USDA to use conservation practices on their land in exchange for rental payments or federal cost-share funding.
A nationwide acreage limit was established for CRP in the 2014 Farm Bill, capping the total number of acres that may be enrolled at 24 million for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. As of March 2016, 23.8 million acres were enrolled in CRP, with 1.7 million acres set to expire this fall.
USDA also announced that coming off a record-setting 2015 continuous enrollment of over 860,000 acres, more than 364,000 acres already have been accepted for 2016 in the CRP continuous enrollment – triple the pace of last year.
FSA will accept 411,000 acres in general enrollment, the most competitive selection in in the history of the program, according to USDA, out of more than 1.8 million acres offered. This competitive general sign-up resulted in selection of offers that yielded a record-high Environmental Benefits Index.
In response to media inquiries, NGFA said it was pleased that USDA’s Farm Service Agency is enrolling more acres through Continuous Conservation Reserve Program signups than through the General CRP signup. The NGFA maintains that the program should be sized in a manner that targets, in particular, acres that are prone to erosion or that contribute to water quality, and which cannot be farmed in an environmentally sustainable manner using modern agricultural production practices. NGFA has been an advocate for utilizing Continuous CRP to obtain the greatest water quality benefits and reductions in soil erosion. Continuous CRP focuses on enrolling land suitable for conservation practices such as riparian buffers, filter strips, wetland buffers, grass waterways, and contour grass strips, whereas General CRP signups have in the past been used to idle large tracts of productive farmland.
NGFA also responded to comments attributed to Secretary Vilsack in an Agri-Pulse news article, in which he was quoted as expressing hope that Congress would increase the size of the CRP in the next farm bill in response to lower commodity prices and the greater demand for access to the program by landowners. Responded the NGFA, “We hope that Congress, when evaluating the future of the CRP, will continue to recognize that it should not be used to idle productive farmland in response to fluctuating commodity prices or the ebb-and-flows in demand from landowners, many of whom retire, relocate or sell the land to outside investors and remove those CRP payments and the economic benefits of their farming operations out of local rural communities. We’ve been down that road before when the CRP initially was authorized in 1985 at a time of heavy grain stocks. It took many years to undo the damage initially caused by restricting access to productive farmland, particularly for young and start-up farmers, as well as to restore the economic vitality that production agriculture brings to rural communities, and to restore U.S. agriculture’s competitiveness after our acreage-idling policies encouraged foreign competitors to ramp up production, displacing U.S. farmers on an almost acre-for-acre basis.
“The NGFA strongly supports a CRP that is targeted at accruing demonstrable environmental benefits while still allowing U.S. agriculture to continue to grow and compete – both domestically and internationally. That’s why we’re so supportive of the administration’s strong push for ratification of the TransPacific Partnership and completion of the T-TIP trade negotiations with Europe. The size of the CRP and the rental rates offered by USDA should be compatible with this vision for a growing, vibrant U.S. production agriculture sector.”