March 5, 2010
At last Saturday’s Pheasants Fest in Des Moines Iowa, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced there will a general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) this year, the first general sign-up since 2006. In testimony before Congress last year USDA indicated there would not be a general sign-up this year, so this week’s announcement represents a change in policy.
The 2008 Farm Bill lowered the total acreage allowed in the CRP from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres. There are currently 31.2 million acres in the reserve.
CRP pays annual rental payments to landowners who idle cropland in contracts that last 10 years. CRP contracts on close to 4.5 million acres expire in September 2010 and another 4.5 million in September 2011, which could mean a significant drop in acreage. Some of those acres will be re-enrolled, but in the past few years, many landowners responded to federal and state incentives for corn ethanol production and periods of higher commodity prices by taking land out of the CRP and putting it back into row crop cultivation. Secretary Vilsack emphasized his concern that the large amount of acreage coming out of CRP will lead to increased wind and soil erosion and the loss of important wildlife habitat, especially in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.
The Secretary stated that USDA’s goal for the 2010 sign-up is to replace the 4.4 million acres leaving the CRP with newly enrolled acreage that can provide higher environmental benefit. He also indicated that the sign-up would target acreage where the program could reduce farm runoff into the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and noted the importance of buffer strips and other practices that are part of the continuous CRP signup.
NSAC is a strong supporter of the continuous sign-up CRP for conservation buffers, as well as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which allows states and non-profit organizations to join with USDA in projects focused on specific watersheds and wildlife habitat needs. We are urging USDA to ensure that 8 million of the CRP’s 32 million acres be used for the continuous signup and CREP.
In addition to the general sign-up announcement, the Secretary also announced that three specific CRP wildlife initiatives will be increased. The cap for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative will increase by 150,000 acres to 650,000 acres, while the cap for the Duck Nesting Habitat Initiative will increase by 50,000 acres to 150,000 acres and the Upland Bird Initiative cap will go up 100,000 acres to 350,000 acres.
Specific details about the 2010 general sign-up will be available after the Farm Service Agency (FSA) completes a Supplemental Environmental Impact State (SEIS) for CRP that covers the changes to the program made by the 2008 Farm Bill. FSA has issued a notice that it is accepting comments on a draft of the SEIS until April 5, 2010. Information on the changes to CRP in the 2008 Farm Bill is provided in the NSAC Grassroots Guide to the Farm Bill.
The NSAC farm bill guide also contains information on the new CRP Transition Program which provides incentives to landowners with expiring CRP contracts who opt to sell or lease the land to a new beginning farmer who agree to a conservation farming plan. USDA expects to announce the rules for the Transition Option soon, hopefully in time for landowners and beginning farmers to consider the option on the millions of acres of contracts expiring this September 30. We will alert readers as that option becomes available. Click here to sign up to receive NSAC action alerts.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment