CRP Transition Option

For Immediate Release
October 21, 2009

Ferd Hoefner 202-547-5754

Sustainable Agriculture Advocates Tell USDA: Don’t Make Beginning Farmers Wait!

Washington, D.C. October 21, 2009 – Today the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) delivered a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack signed by 80 grassroots family farm organizations and nearly 7,500 individuals asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop delays and move to immediate implementation of the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Option, a new opportunity for new beginning and minority farmers to access land.

The Transition Option is a new provision that NSAC helped to secure in the 2008 Farm Bill.  It provides incentives for CRP landowners who do not extend their CRP contracts or re-enroll in CRP to transfer the land to beginning or minority farmers and ranchers who will use sustainable and organic grazing, cropping, and mixed cropping-grazing systems.

USDA implemented some but not all of the new 2008 Farm Bill provisions for the CRP in June with an interim final rule.  Rather than implement the Transition Option immediately, however, the agency is holding up its implementation while it conducts a multi-year supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to review policy options concerning land enrolled in the CRP.

The Farm Service Agency’s notice of intent to prepare the SEIS, issued on September 9, 2009, indicates that the SEIS will have little or no effect on the Transition Option.  While the SEIS is at least marginally relevant for land that remains in the CRP, the Transition Option is only for land that is leaving the CRP, making it inappropriate to include in the SEIS.  The Farm Service Agency admits as much by directing that the SEIS analyze only a single option, namely fully implementing the law as passed by Congress and signed by the President.

The 2008 Farm Bill lowered the acreage allowed in the CRP from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres.  The Farm Service Agency estimates that over 4 million acres of CRP land will be leaving the program in the next two years as CRP contracts expire.  After that 2-year period, the amount of land leaving the program diminishes, making the Transition Option far less relevant.

“One of the major obstacles facing beginning and minority producers is access to land,” says Aimee Witteman, NSAC’s Executive Director.  “For those who care about beginning farmers and the environment, the CRP Transition Option presents a win-win by taking land that would otherwise likely go back to corn-on-corn rotations and making it available to new farmers using sustainable practices.  By delaying implementation of this option, USDA is squandering a key opportunity to support the next generation of producers and make sure millions of acres are put back into production with strong conservation parameters.”

Through the CRP Transition Option, landowners would have the option to rent or lease the land with an option to sell to beginning or minority farmers in exchange for an extra two years worth of CRP payments.  To be eligible, the beginning or minority farmer or rancher must develop and commit to a plan to use sustainable grazing practices, resource-conserving cropping systems and other sustainable systems or be transitioning the land to organic production.

In addition, USDA is required to give these new farmers the opportunity to enroll conservation buffers in the Continuous CRP and the rest of the farm in the Farm Bill’s working lands conservation programs, either the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or the Conservation Stewardship Program.

“We urge Secretary Vilsack to clear away the bureaucratic barriers to implementing this program in real time, while it still counts,” said Witteman.  “It has already been 17 months since the farm bill passed.  Delaying this program for another year or two, at the height of its applicability, is unconscionable.”

The Transition Option was championed in Congress by Representatives Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN) and by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), joined by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Max Baucus (D-MT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The letter delivered to the Secretary today was signed by the Center for Rural Affairs, Land Stewardship Project, Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, Dakota Rural Action, American Grassfed Association, Iowa Environmental Council and 75 other groups from over 30 states. A copy of the letter is here.  The grassroots groups Food Democracy Now!, Slow Food USA, the Greenhorns and the Center for Rural Affairs all participated in the petition drive.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural and urban food systems and communities.