ARLINGTON, VA. — The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) has voiced its opposition to Conservation Reserve Program rental rates that top the maximum established in the 2018 farm law.
The NGFA, in a June 14 statement, said it continues to support working lands programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Both incentivize best management practices that expand output while improving environment outcomes. At the same time, the NGFA is concerned that a program expansion announced by the US Department of Agriculture featuring rental rates 10% higher than allowed by law will eat into agricultural production acreage and put the United States in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis the global market.
High rental rates for the program could also increase the burden on beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers seeking to compete on rental rates and get access to land for expansion of their operations, the NGFA said.
CRP, one of the largest voluntary private-lands conservation programs in the United States, was enacted in 1985. Its original intent was to control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. The program has evolved over the past 35 years to help producers and landowners establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Lands enrolled in CRP also play a key role in mitigating impacts from climate change, and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has added a new climate-smart practice incentive for practices that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Congress added maximum CRP rental rates in to the 2018 farm legislation in an attempt to keep the CRP focused on marginal farmland and away from competition with producers over productive farmland. Land enrolled through general sign-ups was capped at 85% of each county’s average cash rental rate and 90% for land enrolled under continuous CRP sign-ups. The NGFA supported those limits and said new exemptions will lead to enrollment of productive farmland.
“This decision also runs counter to signals from the market encouraging farmers to maintain and expand production,” the NGFA said. “Programs that increase acreage idling in the United States weaken our food and agricultural supply chains and send market signals to competitors to plant more acres, resulting in negative climate and environmental impacts.”
Meanwhile, the USDA has extended to July 23 the deadline for agricultural producers and landowners to apply for the CRP general signup, and planned a July 12-Aug. 20 window in which the FSA will accept applications for CRP Grasslands, which features a $15 per acre minimum rental rate. Both competitive signup options were updated this year to provide greater incentives for producers and increase its conservation benefits and will provide for annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes, the USDA said. The FSA also is adding a one-time “inflationary” adjustment for payment rates, as well as having more flexibility on adjusting soil rental rates.
“We are excited to roll out our new and improved CRP General and Grasslands signups,” said Zach Ducheneaux, an FSA administrator. “Bottom line, CRP now makes more financial sense for producers while also providing a bigger return on investment in terms of natural resource benefits. The General and Grasslands signups are part of a broader suite of tools available through CRP to integrate key conservation practices on our nation’s working lands.”
CRP’s Grasslands initiative helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations, and improves environmental quality.
To enroll in the CRP General or Grasslands signups, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center by the above deadlines. Contact information can be found at farmers.gov/service-locator.