The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Vilsack announces Conservation Reserve Program signup


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will hold a general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program from March 14 through April 15.

The program pays farmers to enroll highly erodible land and plant grasses and other crops that will conserve soil and create wildlife habitat. USDA also provides cost-share assistance to farmers to help establish the long-term, resource-conserving cover on the CRP land.

The 2008 farm bill provided for a program of up to 32 million acres. Farm Service Agency Administrator Jonathan Coppess said in a call to reporters that there are slightly more than 31 million acres enrolled in the program, and that 4.4 million acres are scheduled to come out of the program on Sept. 30. Coppess said the agency expects to accept about 3.95 million acres and keep the program as close to the 32 million acre cap as possible. Most contracts will run for 10 years, but the agency will offer 15-year contracts in some areas to achieve certain conservation goals, he said.

Created in the 1985 farm bill at a time when farm prices were low, the CRP is popular with farmers, environmentalists, hunters and fishermen but not with agribusiness, which contends that it reduces sales of seed, fertilizer and other inputs and results in smaller crops.

Even though commodity prices now are high, Vilsack defended the plan.

“Over the past 25 years, support for CRP has grown, thanks to strong backing from farmers, ranchers, conservationists, hunters, fishermen and other outdoor sports enthusiasts,” he said. “Not only has CRP contributed to the national effort to improve water and air quality, it has preserved habitat for wildlife, and prevented soil erosion by protecting the most sensitive areas including those prone to flash flooding and runoff. Today's announcement continues the Obama Administration’s effort to conserve sensitive areas and improve wildlife habitat.”

Coppess said he believes the program achieves a balance between production and conservation. Only highly erodible land is accepted, he noted, and the agency also takes into consideration what environmental benefits will be achieved. The best way for farmers to enroll in the program is to visit one of FSA’s 2,200 county offices, he added.

FSA has determined county rental rates using data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Farmers can learn those rates when they visit their county office, Coppess said, and elected county committees that run those offices can appeal the rates if they think they are out of line.

Landowners may offer currently enrolled land, and farmers and landowners may also offer acres that have been in production. Coppess said farmers should be informed about whether their land is accepted by mid May. Although the contracts generally go into effect on October 1, farmers may plant crops on the land this year and harvest them even if the harvest takes place after October 1.

Vilsack made the announcement at a Pheasants Forever conference in Omaha, noting that Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, National Association of State Foresters, Playa Lakes Joint Venture (Lesser Prairie Chicken/Sage Grouse), and the Longleaf Incorporated Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and other conservation and wildlife organizations will help USDA inform farmers and landowners about the program.