Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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USDA: No need for ‘early out’ of CRP

Washington – Conservationists hoping the Conservation Reserve
Program wouldn’t be further eroded by an “early out” option
breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday when U.S. Department
of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced his agency would not
offer penalty-free release from CRP contracts.

Still, the program could lose about 12 million acres in the next
three years as current contracts expire, points out Dave Nomsen,
vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever.
Further, Schafer announced during the news conference that
landowners had, with penalty, withdrawn nearly 300,000 acres from
the program within the past two years.

That, Nomsen said, points to the key problem for the program
that pays landowners to set aside marginal ag land for the benefits
realized by wildlife, the reduction in erosion, and the improvement
in water quality.

“The biggest challenge is to put in place a more competitive and
economically viable program,” Nomsen said.

Two main factors, he said, made the USDA decide not to offer
early outs from CRP contracts: slipping commodity prices and cheery
news on the production side of the equation.

Nomsen said the USDA needed to make a decision quickly as
farmers planned for production of crops like winter wheat.

The option of early outs surfaced months ago, as crop prices
rose and livestock producers faced high feed prices, coupled with
higher prices for consumers.

Brad Redlin, director of agriculture programs for the Izaak
Walton League of America, said earlier in the week that reports
indicated Schafer was awaiting results of a National Wildlife
Federation lawsuit before taking action affecting CRP lands.

Redlin said the ruling “placed any possibility of an ‘early out’
in serious question.”

The lawsuit

A lawsuit that may have played a small role in the USDA’s
decision not to offer “early outs” for CRP contract holders was
decided last week when U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour
issued a ruling that provided varying levels of satisfaction for
both the plaintiff – the National Wildlife Federation – and the
American Farm Bureau, which supported haying and grazing on CRP

The NWF sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its May
decision to allow haying and grazing of CRP land as part of a
“critical feed use” program.

Tom France, regional director for the NWF’s Northern Rockies
office in Missoula, Mont., said Coughenour’s ruling showed the
“critical feed use program was illegal and shouldn’t have been
brought forward.”

The court ruling said the USDA violated the National
Environmental Policy Act by deciding “on the basis of the
‘environmental evaluation’ produced, that the critical feed use
initiative would have no significant adverse environmental
consequences …”

But, according to the USDA’s decision, some haying and grazing
still will take place under the original order. The judge decided,
with input from both the USDA and NWF, that CRP participants who,
prior to he court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order
(which stopped haying and grazing) on July 8, had “applied to and
received approval from the (USDA’s) Farm Service Agency to hay and
graze.” The FSA also may proceed to process and approve the
remaining applications that were filed by CRP participants prior to
the issuance of the restraining order.

Further, if a landowner can prove an investment of $4,500 toward
haying and grazing equipment or preparation made prior to the
issuance of the restraining order, he or she might be allowed to
hay or graze under the FSA order (CRP-598).

France said he expects about 1.8 million acres of CRP will be
hayed or grazed this summer. There currently are about 36 million
acres enrolled in the program nationwide.

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