Springfield – Concern about landowners taking “early outs” from
the federal Conservation Reserve Program took a back seat when the
U.S. Department of Agriculture announced CRP acres in flooded
counties will be opened for grazing.
Designed to provide feed and forage for livestock while
maintaining the conservation benefits to waterfowl habitat, the
plan has garnered support from wildlife conservation groups. Ducks
Unlimited said it supports the decision, which it says reinforces
the importance of grasslands to the nation, especially in waterfowl
“Ducks Unlimited believes that well-managed ranching and duck
nesting habitat work well together, and this move underscores how
the Conservation Reserve Program has served both ranchers and
waterfowl for over 20 years,” Ducks Unlimited Director of
Agriculture Conservation Policy Barton James said. “Using the land
in this way, especially to provide relief for ranchers during this
time of hardship, is good policy and we’re pleased that USDA has
chosen this route.”
DU has encouraged allowing well-managed grazing on land enrolled
in the CRP in emergency situations.
“Flooding in the Midwest and drought in the Great Plains
underscores the need for a common sense approach to land use
policy,” Ducks Unlimited said in a written statement to its
members. “USDA’s action addresses this situation in a comprehensive
fashion, allowing for a positive outcome for both agriculture and
In addition to the benefits of CRP land for cattle herds, the
program also has been responsible for conserving thousands of acres
of wetlands and uplands. CRP reportedly adds more than 2.2 million
ducks to the fall migration each year, as well as conserving more
than 450 million tons of topsoil.
The decision to open acres in flooded counties highlights the
importance of having CRP land available in disaster situations,
Delta Waterfowl officials added.
“CRP has also been helpful in mitigating the effects of
droughts, like the one that the Great Plains is experiencing now,”
a written statement from Delta said.
Meanwhile, Ducks Unlimited has come out in support of efforts to
open CRP acreage in North Dakota for grazing by livestock producers
in severely drought-stricken areas.
“Allowing managed grazing on select Conservation Reserve Program
land will maintain those mitigating qualities, while providing some
relief for ranchers,” James said.
As for CRP “early outs,” groups like DU and Delta concede that
there will be additional challenges by the termination of
contracts, without reimbursement of the conservation payments made
“Cultivating Conservation Reserve Program land without
reimbursing the taxpayer for the money paid to keep their marginal
cropland in a more appropriate use sends the wrong message about
the value that we place on conservation,” said James. “We must be
clear about the need to ‘farm the best, and conserve the rest’ and
not squander the taxpayer’s investment into these lands.”