USDA action exposes desperate need to increase CRP acreage cap

A notice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday informed county offices around the country not to accept any new Conservation Reserve Program offers for FY17 after May 3, 2017. Acting Deputy Administrator Bradley Karmen signed the notice, which excluded signups for CREP.

You can seen the memo here, but the basic justification for the USDA’s decision is that CRP is up against the 24 million-acre cap that Congress implemented in the 2014 Farm Bill.

According to Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s vice president for government affairs, even ongoing Continuous CRP signup for projects like quail buffers, CRP SAFE projects, and various wetlands-targeted projects are shut down. The only exception is for those few CREP projects around the country. (Aside, if the notice jeopardized Minnesota’s CREP III, this humble scribe would be using some much more colorful language in this blog.)

Nomsen called the USDA’s move surprising, especially in the wake of Sonny Perdue being confirmed as the new secretary of Ag. Perdue, a former Georgia governor and a quail hunter, expressed support for boosting CRP earlier this week.

Past administrations have closed signups, too, but typically when implementing end-of-year administrative technical changes. This week’s announcement is new in that it’s driven by concerns about being oversubscribed on total acreage, Nomsen said.

This scribe finds that hyper-concern from the Trump administration disappointing, given that 2.5 million acres of CRP are expiring before the end of 2017. PF staffers and others working at the ground level will tell you landowner demand for CRP is high for a variety of reasons, and thousands of interested landowners were turned down during the last signup.

So there’s high interest for conservation among producers, but in its infinite wisdom, Congress has turned that demand away.

At Pheasant Fest in February, conservationists exited in lockstep demanding a 40 million-acre cap in the 2018 Farm Bill. The USDA’s action this week further highlights the need to increase the cap.

“This is another strong signal that we went too far in that last Farm Bill with the cap,” Nomsen  said. “And there’s huge demand for it. We’re losing conservation on the landscape because we don’t have access to CRP right now.”

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