WASHINGTON, April 23, 2015 – A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Department of Agriculture to increase signup efforts in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to keep enrollment near acreage caps established in the 2014 farm bill.
CRP is a Farm Service Agency (FSA) program created in 1985 that gives farmers a yearly payment – usually as part of 10-15 year contracts – if they agree to take certain environmentally sensitive land from production. Enrollment in the program peaked at 37 million acres in 2007, but has dropped to its current enrollment of 24.29 million acres.
The nationwide CRP acreage cap for fiscal year 2015 is 26 million acres, a figure established in the 2014 farm bill. More than 1.9 million acres enrolled in CRP contracts expire on Sept. 30, the end of FY 2015, so unless a large number of acres are enrolled by then, the lawmakers say enrollment may be nearly 3.6 million acres under the enrolled acreage cap at the end of this fiscal year.
In a letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 12 senators say CRP is still a vital program for agriculture and conservation.
“Although the 2014 farm bill lowered the CRP acreage cap, this reduction does not signal waning congressional support for CRP,” the letter reads. “It is our intent that USDA provide adequate enrollment periods, including general CRP signups, in order to ensure eligible landowners are not denied sufficient opportunity to enroll their land and to ensure CRP does not remain undersubscribed.”
More than 18 million acres – about 75 percent of the current CRP – were enrolled via general signups, which the senators say indicates the important contribution general CRP signups are to overall enrollment. The lawmakers also note the acres enrolled via general signup are more cost effective to the government. The average rental rate for acres enrolled under general CRP signups is $66.34 compared to the $110.89 average rental rate for acres enrolled in continuous CRP.
Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., led the effort to produce the letter, and in a joint release, they said a general signup is critical to ensure CRP is used to its maximum potential.
“CRP has evolved over the past 30 years into a versatile soil and water conservation and wildlife habitat program, that also provides a solid economic alternative for farmers in place of producing expensive crops on marginal land,” Thune said in the release. “Because general CRP signups account for the highest percentage of enrolled acres and are the most cost-effective, we need a general CRP signup each year to keep enrollment at its maximum level.”
“The Conservation Reserve Program is critical to reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and providing wildlife habitats,” Donnelly said. “This program helps both our agriculture businesses and conservation efforts. That is why my Senate colleagues and I are urging the USDA to make sure that eligible landowners have every opportunity to participate.”
Along with Thune and Donnelly, the letter was also signed by the following senators:
Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Steve Daines, R-Mont.
Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
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