November 30, 2012
Due to Congressional inaction, the 2008 Farm Bill has expired without a new bill or extension to take its place. In the absence of a farm bill, numerous innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture systems are shut down and left without funding. This post is part of our 10-week blog series which will feature both program facts and stories from the field of those farmers and communities which are impacted by expired farm bill programs. To read this week’s earlier post on land access and conservation, click here.
By Traci Bruckner, Rural Policy Program Assistance Director, Center for Rural Affairs
Jason Frerichs on his farm in Wilmot, South Dakota.
When we speak with beginning farmers across the country, one issue that quickly comes up is access to land. Working out long-term agreements that allow beginning farmers to gain a foothold in farming and implement valuable conservation measures is an additional challenge.
The Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) is just the program to aid the transition of farmland from retiring farmers to the next generation of stewards. Thanks to this program, more than 1,500 beginning farmers and ranchers have gained access to land. However, there are many more farmers lined up and waiting to use the program. These producers will not be able to apply until Congress passes a new farm bill or a farm bill extension that provides appropriate CRP-TIP funding.
Jason Frerichs, a farmer and rancher in Wilmot, SD, is a prime example. While Jason has some land that he is currently farming and ranching, this program could help him solidify his operation by building out his rotational grazing system. Jason currently manages a 150 head beef cow-calf operation and also raises corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa.
Jason inquired about CRP-TIP after he became aware of the program; however, the funds had all been used. When I interviewed Jason for this story, I asked him if conservation would be a priority for him, if he were able to access land through the program. Jason emphatically said, “Yes. If I had this opportunity to take land that was in the Conservation Reserve Program, I would look at putting that land into a combined system where you maintain some acres in grass for a controlled rotational grazing system, and on areas that can be reasonably farmed, I would use a diversified small grain crop rotation that integrates cover crops. This would be a conservation-based system that would preserve the environmental benefits of those acres.”
Jason also noted that this is a pivotal time right now for access to land for livestock grazing systems like his. “When we can add conservation into the mix through a controlled, rotational grazing system, it puts beginning farmers on a different level. We are creating a legacy that will provide conservation benefits that reach beyond the farm or ranch. At the end of the day, a beginning farmer has something they can look back on, how they cared for the land, and feel proud.”
The 2008 Farm Bill provided $25 million in mandatory funding for CRP-TIP. But that funding did not last long, running out in roughly 18 months time.
In addition, the program’s funding and authorization expired on October 1, 2012, putting the future of the program at risk. Both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed new farm bills provide renewed funding for the program. The Senate goes further, doubling the funding to allow more beginning farmers and ranchers to take advantage of the program opportunities. Even the higher Senate level is still less than the Congressional Budget Office estimates is needed to meet the demand for the program over a full 5-year farm bill cycle.
To reap the win-win solutions represented by young farmers like Jason, Congress needs to provide CRP-TIP funding in the 2012 Farm Bill, or, if the new farm bill does not happen, at the very least extend authority and provide funding for this program for 2013 in a farm bill extension.
There are over 3.3 million acres of CRP that expire in 2013 and over 10 million acres that expire over the next five years. Many of those acres will be re-enrolled, but many will also go back into production. Of the latter, the vast majority of the farms and acreages will go to the highest bidders, who will rarely be beginning farmers, and will have no conservation requirements of major significance.
CRP-TIP helps level the playing field, creating new economic opportunities in rural America while facilitating the transition of those acres to a new crop of land stewards. It would be difficult for Congress to find a better bargain than that as it works on the farm bill. With more than 3 million acres due to expire next year, Congress needs to act this December to renew CRP-TIP funding.