Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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CRP faces new challenges

By Tim Spielman Associate Editor

Washington — Farm Bill 2007 is a couple years away, but
conservation leaders already are promoting the continued need for
the famed Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a set-aside program
for marginal farmland authorized in federal farm aid bills.

Leaders from Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited recently
attended a Capitol Hill hearing to voice support for, and concerns
about, the future of CRP.

Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for PF, said
that group continues to push for increasing the scope of CRP, from
the now-allowed 39.2 million acres to 45 million. But there might
be several hurdles to clear to reach that goal.

“There are a number of dynamics that make this next farm bill
particularly worrisome and particularly challenging,” Nomsen
said.

The last two times CRP was reauthorized by Congress (the latest
was 2002), the budget wasn’t as tight as it will be this time, he
said. Fruit and vegetable growers likely will have a greater voice
in the next farm bill – and could receive greater supports. And the
current energy situation likely will be an important part of the
equation. Will ethanol production increase, and could that lead to
the farming of former “marginal” land that was enrolled in CRP?

“The pressures are more complex; they’re greater than past farm
bills,” Nomsen said.

Jeff Nelson, director of DU’s Great Plains regional office in
Bismarck, N.D., said CRP is a winning combination for those
involved.

“No program in history has done more for providing landowners
with stable and diversified income while providing an incredible
amount of landscape-level conservation of wildlife habitat, soil,
and water,” Nelson said in a DU press release. “Given all the
benefits of CRP to farmers and ranchers, the environment and the
American public, we cannot afford the loss of CRP authorization in
the next farm bill.”

Nelson said farmers aren’t the only ones to benefit.

“New economies are emerging that are founded on the multiple
benefits provided by CRP lands,” he said. “These include
wildlife-based tourism and associated small businesses that
accommodate visitors.”

The 2002 Farm Bill authorizes many USDA programs, including CRP,
which is administered by the Farm Service Agency. New legislation
has to be enacted before the bill expires in 2007. Currently there
are just over 35 million acres enrolled in CRP, including nearly
620,000 million in Wisconsin. There remains a gap between what’s
enrolled and the enrollment cap for continuous signup that could be
for things like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CRP
and state conservation funding). CRP contracts are for 10 to 15
years, though CREP contracts typically run much longer.

What concerns Nomsen is the fact that 22 million enrolled acres
are due to expire in 2007 and 2008. Wisconsin alone has contracts
equalling about 185,000 acres set to expire those years.

While the U.S. Congress debates how to scale back farm bill
funding, Nomsen said conservation leaders are attempting to
demonstrate the importance of CRP so that it’s not a budget cut
casualty. That’s even more challenging with a number of first-term
members of Congress.

“There’s a lot of educating for us to do,” he said.

Currently, the Farm Service Agency has asked states to update
rental rates for ag land, though the agency isn’t saying that new
rates would apply to those enrolling or re-enrolling in CRP.
However, Nomsen said, “Whatever FSA does, it must be a competitive
rate for landowners.” If it’s not, landowners could turn again to
some crop production or grazing on former CRP lands.

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