Feds plan nationwide meetings for CRP

Public input meeting slated for Sept. 21 in Moorhead

Washington – The USDA Farm Service Agency has announced it will
host nine meetings across the nation during the next 30 days
regarding the Conservation Reserve Program, the federal “set-aside”
program that’s been credited in Minnesota and other Midwestern
states with improving wildlife habitat, and boosting, most notably,
pheasant numbers.

Those meetings include a Sept. 21 public input-gathering session
at AmericInn Lodge and Suites in Moorhead, from 5-7 p.m.

Pheasants Forever, in a press statement issued following the
announcement, called CRP “undoubtedly the most successful
conservation program of modern times.”

But the future of the program, according to PF, is in doubt.

“We have reached the most critical juncture in the history of
(CRP),” the press release says. “Since 2005, over 4.2 million acres
have expired, and over the next five years, another 21 million
acres are slated to expire.”

While the USDA offered extentions to some expiring contracts
this spring, PF says a long-absent general signup is needed to
ensure expiring acres are retained.

“The stated intent of this public comment period is to find ways
to make the Conservation Reserve Program more effective for
producers, and increase the environmental and wildlife benefits of
the program,” Dave Nomsen, PF’s vice president of government
affairs, said in the press statement. “Those goals are unachievable
without a new CRP general signup.”

CRP enrollment peaked in the nation two years ago, at about 36.7
million acres. But the most recent federal farm bill capped the
program at 32 million acres. Current enrollment is about 33.8
million acres, including about 1.7 million in Minnesota.

According to the USDA press release announcing the meetings, the
department will “consider each comment received at the public
meetings and during the comment period when preparing a
Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

“This statement will help USDA decision-makers and the public
with an analysis of the environmental benefits and potential
impacts associated with implementing various changes to CRP
consistent with the 2008 farm bill.”

Greg Anderson, agricultural program specialist for the Minnesota
state FSA office, said the environmental assessment process is
similar to the effort undertaken following passage of the 2002 farm
bill. Some of the changes passed in the 2008 version of the bill,
the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, already took effect.
Following the input stage, the second round of changes will be put
in place, Anderson said.

In the FSA’s Federal Register notice, some of the changes
brought by the 2008 farm bill are highlighted. “The (environmental
impact statement) will assess the potential impacts of changes made
to the program …” the register says.

Some changes that will be evaluated include:

€ Cropping history requirements are updated to 4 of 6 years from
2002 to 2007;

€ Alfalfa and multi-year grasses and legumes in a rotation
process may contribute toward meeting crop history
requirements;

€ Annual survey of dryland and cash rental rates by the National
Agricultural Statistics Service:

€ Incentives for beginning or “socially disadvantaged” farmers
or ranchers to facilitate transition of land enrolled in CRP from a
retired or retiring owner or operator to return some or all of the
land to agricultural production using sustainable grazing or crop
production methods.

According to the FSA, Minnesota could lose more than 680,000
acres of CRP to expiration of contracts during the next five
years.

However, Anderson said landowners in the state have taken
advantage of conservation options beyond general CRP signup.
Through the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement program, known as
SAFE, about 23,000 acres in the state are out of ag production.
Further, there’s continued emphasis on “continuous” signup options
for CRP practices.

Besides creating habitat for wildlife, CRP is intended,
according to the FSA, to improve the quality of ground and surface
waters, and control soil erosion.

Other public meetings are slated for Sept. 15 in Spokane, Wash.;
Sept. 17 in Great Falls, Mont.; Sept. 23 in Manhattan, Kan.; Sept.
25 in Springfield, Ill.; Sept. 29 in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Oct. 1
in Clovis, N.M.; Oct. 6 in Albany, Ga.; and Oct. 8 in Harrisburg,
Pa.

Public comments are due by Oct. 19, 2009, to be considered in
the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

You can submit comments online at: http:
//public.geo-marine.com; or Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov; or
E-mail comments to: CRPcomments@tecinc.com; or Mail
or hand deliver comments to: CRP SEIS, c/o TEC Inc., 8 San Jose
Dr., Suite 3-B, Newport News, VA 23606, Fax comments to: (757)
594-1469.

For more information on CRP please visit your FSA county office
or at www.fsa.usda.gov.

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