The Conservation Reserve Program would undergo some major changes under House Agriculture Committee Republicans' proposed farm bill draft, but they won't be seen in the acreage cap, according to text unveiled today in preparation for a committee markup next week. 

The proposal released today by House Republicans will maintain the current 27-million-acre cap on CRP. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow's framework, on the other hand, would gradually increase the program cap to 29 million acres.

Both proposals, however, would shift acreage towards the grasslands signup, which House Ag Chair Glenn Thompson told Agri-Pulse has "need for an expansion."

A Republican committee aide said Thursday that the bill does include some "flexibilities" meant to turn CRP into more of a "state-led program."

The bill does propose a significant overhaul to CRP's rental rate structure, basing rates on a "land capability" classification system utilized by NRCS. Soil types less suited for cultivation — which range between classes three and seven on the scale — would see higher rental rates.

Class one and two soils — which USDA says only have "slight limitations that restrict their use" — would receive up to 85% of the county's average soil rental rate, while class three soils would receive 100% of the county's average rental rate. Classes four through seven would go as high as 115%.

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"We want to make sure that if lands are going to be idled other than production agriculture, that we tend to lean toward more marginal lands to do that," Thompson said. 

A Republican committee aide said they will not be turning CRP into a dollar-based program, an idea some House Republicans had previously been considering last year.

"It just didn't work out," Thompson said of the dollar-based idea, though he added that the committee "certainly explored all of the possibilities."

Between $13 and $14 billion of conservation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act would also be added to the farm bill under House Republicans' proposal, though it would be spread out in different areas of the title. This would be done using rescinded FY25 and FY26 IRA budget authority, as well as any dollars obligated in FY24, an aide said.

While some of the dollars would remain in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, they would be stripped of their current "climate-smart" focus. Other funding would be used to stand up a new Forest Conservation Easement Program and reauthorize funding for feral swine eradication.

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