CRP acres could drop after flood

Washington – Before the demand for U.S. farm commodities
subsides, Dave Nomsen believes CRP acres in the nation could dip
below 25 million, down more than 10 million acres from its peak
last year.

That prediction, according to Pheasants Forever’s vice president
of governmental affairs, is based on a number of factors – the
latest being flooding in the Midwest – that have made it less
likely acres enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program
will be renewed when they expire, and more likely the government
will offer a penalty- free “early out” option.

“The bull’s-eye on CRP grows bigger and bigger by the moment,”
Nomsen said.

Given the threats to CRP, Pheasants Forever announced in late
June that it was requesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture
authorize the sign-up of another 500,000 acres in the newest CRP
option, known as CP-38, or State Acres For wildlife
Enhancement.

“It’s a CRP option that’s been well-received in a number of
states, and it targets acres favorable to wildlife,” Nomsen said.
“It (SAFE) is a critical way to protect the future of CRP.”

He said it’s up to Ed Schafer, secretary of the USDA, to approve
or disprove the request. If approved, acres for SAFE might be
available.

“In the past, the USDA would wait a year or so, to see how
things were going before making changes,” Nomsen said.

He said it’s hard to predict how the USDA will view the
request.

Earlier this year, landowners across the U.S. were allowed to
begin sign-up for the first 500,000 acres; states submitted plans
to the USDA and program acres were divvied between states.

Illinois received about 24,000 acres to enroll in SAFE.

Why the interest in SAFE and not so much in general CRP sign-up
For landowners, SAFE is financially more competitive, Nomsen said,
and it’s targeted at small parcels of land.

Because of that, it fits into farming operations better.
Further, it’s for farmers who want to do some good for wildlife,
Nomsen said.

The CP-38 (SAFE) option includes continuous sign-up, so
landowners don’t need to wait for a general sign-up period to be
announced.

As for the immediate future of CRP, and the possibility of an
“early out” option for contract holders, Nomsen said he expects the
USDA to announce changes very soon. He said flooding in the Midwest
could cause the loss of 4 million to 6 million acres of ag crop
this year.

The USDA must find a way to make general CRP more favorable for
landowners, he said. That likely will entail an adjustment in
rental rates, or a leveling off (or downswing) in ag commodity
prices.

Like general CRP contracts, SAFE contracts are for 10 to 15
years. Producers receive annual rental payments, as well as
cost-share assistance to establish habitat-enhancing natural covers
on eligible lands.

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