CRP to bump up by 1.7M acres

Washington — Federal officials announced this week that about 1.7 million acres will be welcomed into the Conservation Reserve Program following the latest round of general CRP signup. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said earlier this week that the government had received some 28,000 offers on more than 1.9 million acres of land.

While good news for conservationists, the addition of 1.7 million acres comes just months prior to the loss, via contract expiration, of about 3.3 million acres. Further, this year’s acreage was considerably less than the 3.9 million enrolled last year.

Currently, there are about 26.9 million CRP acres nationwide. A House-passed farm bill (without a nutrition title) would reduce the CRP cap to about 24 million acres in future years.

The number of contract offers was high, according to the USDA, considering the current lucrative nature of producing crops like corn and beans, and other ag produce.

The fact that nearly 28,000 offers were made demonstrates “CRP’s continuing appeal as one of our nation’s most successful voluntary programs for soil, water, and wildlife conservation,” according to the USDA.

And, Vilsack said, “For 27 years, lands in CRP have helped to conserve our nation’s resources and played a part in mitigating climate change. American farmers and ranchers continue to recognize the importance of protecting our nation’s most environmentally sensitive land by enrolling in CRP.”

While happy about the recent addition of general CRP acres, groups like Pheasants Forever expressed concern in the aftermath.

“While we thank USDA for recognizing the need for holding this CRP signup and applaud the landowners who are participating in conservation, this news of CRP’s historic low acre total (a 26-year low) makes it even more apparent there are grave concerns for the health of CRP, our nation’s most successful conservation program responsible for countless benefits to water quality, soil resources, and wildlife,” Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever vice president of governmental affairs, said in a PF press release.

The Pheasants Forever press release also pointed out that about 14.7 million acres of CRP has been lost since 2007. “CRP is significantly below the 30-million-acre enrollment bench mark maintained for more than two decades. That 30-million-acre mark had been providing record benefits in terms of soil, water, and wildlife resources,” Nomsen said.

He said CRP losses, combined with increasing agricultural activities that have included conversion of native prairies and wetlands, are having a “catastrophic impact on the landscape.”

Minnesota’s enrollment this year following the general CRP signup was about one-fourth that of last year, when about 100,000 acres were enrolled during the 2012 signup period.

This year, about 25,700 acres were added in a total of 74 counties in the state, according to Wanda Garry, the Minnesota Farm Service Agency’s chief conservation program specialist.

Garry said about 33,000 acres were offered up for the program; the acceptance rate was about 78 percent, slightly lower than last year’s 85-percent acceptance rate.

While the state now has about 1.4 million acres in CRP, the gain of 25,700 acres comes just before the loss of about 130,000 acres this fall.

Garry said the nationwide overall reduction in CRP signals a change in the USDA’s approach to conservation.

“We’ve switched gears and we’re targeting more sensitive areas,” she said. Those areas usually are “continuous” CRP practices aimed at things like buffer areas along waterways or erosion-prone areas.

Nineteen counties in southern Minnesota opened to emergency haying/grazing

The Minnesota office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced earlier this week that CRP acres in 19 southern Minnesota counties had been authorized for emergency haying and grazing “due to excessive precipitation that caused a sever shortage of forage.”

According to an FSA press release, “Emergency grazing of CRP may begin immediately, while emergency haying of CRP cannot begin until Aug. 2.”

Wanda Garry, Minnesota FSA chief conservation program specialist, said a number of factors, including winterkill, a late-spring freezing rain, and an overall wet spring led to the forage shortage in southern counties.

In the press release, Deb Crusoe, Minnesota FSA state executive director, said, “Additional grazing acres and forage will now be available to help livestock producers get through the severe shortage of forage that exists, particularly in southeastern Minnesota.”

Counties approved for emergency haying and grazing of CRP include Blue Earth, Carver, Dakota, Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Jackson, Le Sueur, Mower, Nicollet, Olmsted, Scott, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, and Winona, the press release said. These counties experienced significantly higher precipitation from March through June 2013 and sustained a 40 percent or greater loss of available feed as a result of the precipitation.

Producers must contact their local FSA office to apply for any haying or grazing on CRP acres. It may not be conducted on some CRP practices, and it’s limited to 50 percent of the field for haying, or 75 percent of the field for grazing. Other restrictions may apply.

House committee takes knife to conservation programs

Ducks Unlimited earlier this week alerted conservationists, via a press release, of recommendations made by the House Appropriations Committee, within the 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. Specifically, the bill doesn’t include funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act or the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“In the current fiscal climate, we understand that conservation programs must also receive scrutiny in the budget-cutting process,” DU CEO Dale Hall said in a press statement. “However, it is short-sighted and unacceptable to completely zero out funding for conservation programs that are also economic drivers. NAWCA in particular is unique because it more than triples any investment by the federal government with non-federal funding through private partners.”

NAWCA has translated more than $1 billion in federal appropriations over the life of the program into nearly $3.5 billion in additional economic activity.

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