Agribusiness groups support move to reform C.R.P.

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The National Grain and Feed Association on Jan. 23 joined with seven other national agribusiness associations in commending Representative Martha Roby of Alabama for introducing legislation that would reform the Conservation Reserve Program (C.R.P.).

In a letter to Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, ranking Democrat on the committee, the N.G.F.A. and the other organizations urged the agriculture committee to consider Ms. Roby’s legislation as it renews its deliberations on a new five-year farm bill.

In their joint letter to Mr. Lucas and Mr. Peterson, the groups said Ms. Roby’s legislation “complements your joint leadership efforts to prudently modify existing law (with respect to the C.R.P.), undertaken as part of the House agriculture committee’s language” in its version of the 2012 farm bill. The N.G.F.A. last year had commended Mr. Lucas and Mr. Peterson for their efforts to responsibly right-size the C.R.P. while preserving its role in protecting environmentally sensitive land, water quality and wildlife habitat. The N.G.F.A. at that time indicated a strong preference for the House agriculture committee-passed C.R.P. language compared with the version contained in the Senate-passed farm bill. Both bills died once the new Congress took office this month.

“We’re extremely pleased that Congresswoman Roby continues her strong leadership on the importance of right-sizing the C.R.P. in a way that preserves its environmental, water-quality and wildlife benefits, while enabling good-quality farmland to exit the program to help the United States remain competitive in response to strong demand for grains and oilseeds,” said Randy Gordon, president of the N.G.F.A. “As was the case last year, her productive efforts will be instrumental as Congress streamlines and updates existing conservation programs in a way that enhances protection of working farmlands that are so essential to both U.S. agriculture’s future and its contribution to America’s economic growth and job creation. “

The N.G.F.A. and the other organizations said Ms. Roby’s bill (H.R. 349) would build upon and further improve last year’s House C.R.P. farm bill language. The bill would reduce the acreage cap in the C.R.P. over a five-year period to 24 million acres, rather than the 25-million-acre ceiling contained in both the House and Senate versions of last year’s farm bill.

The bill would remove from C.R.P. eligibility Class I and II lands, which represent the nation’s most productive farmland, thereby focusing the C.R.P. and scarce federal conservation expenditures on more highly erodible and marginal lands. Ms. Roby’s bill would exempt from the C.R.P.-enrollment restriction Class I and II lands that consist of buffer strips, filter strips or portions of land adjacent to grassed waterways that protect water quality.

The N.G.F.A. and the other signatories to the letter to Mr. Lucas and Mr. Peterson also noted that Ms. Roby’s bill would mandate that the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the 2014 fiscal year give existing C.R.P. contract holders the freedom to begin restoring to production — before contract expiration and without penalty — qualifying C.R.P. acres that have been enrolled for at least five years and that can be farmed in an environmentally sustainable way. In so doing, Ms. Roby’s bill mirrors and update the House Agriculture Committee-passed 2012 farm bill, which contained such a mandate for the 2013 fiscal year only. However, the N.G.F.A. and the other organizations urged that the House agriculture committee consider extending the mandatory penalty-free early out language to multiple fiscal years beyond 2014 once it begins consideration of a new farm bill.

The letter called Ms. Roby’s bill “extremely timely” given last summer’s drought that “gripped America’s most important crop-production regions.” It also noted that current weather projections indicated the 2013 growing season may experience drier and warmer-than-normal growing conditions, “with limited opportunity to rebuild extremely tight grain and oilseed stocks.”

Joining the N.G.F.A. in the joint letter to the House agriculture committee leadership were the American Feed Industry Association, the Agricultural Retailers Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Oilseed Processors Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Turkey Federation, North American Millers’ Association, and The Fertilizer Institute.
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