One month after a group of young farmers in Ames, Iowa, gave an earful to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about problems they have in trying to buy new ground while competing with the conservation reserve program, Iowa Republican Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst are pressing Vilsack on the issue.
In a letter to Vilsack the senators raise a number of points about how the program is administered.
As DTN’s Chris Clayton reported in August, http://bit.ly/…, the CRP is at its lowest acreage level nationally in decades with 25 million acres enrolled this year, down from 37 million in 2007. The farm bill pushed down acreage in the program as a budget-saving move, but rental rates offered by USDA also lag behind the current market. Landowners are getting contracts based more on what the rental market looked like two years ago rather than now.
During a roundtable with Vilsack in Ames, western Iowa farmer Amy McLaughlin said she started out in a young and beginning farmer program by taking out a loan to start a cow-calf operation. Chris Clayton reported where she lives there is virtually no open pasture to lease. However, earlier this summer she said she saw about 14,000 local acres enrolled into CRP at about $300 an acre. McLaughlin said it’s difficult for beginning farmers to compete with that rental rate.
In their letter to Vilsack, Grassley and Ernst questioned the CRP formula for setting rental rates.
“While we understand the three-year average formula that explains the rental rates adjusting slower than the market,” they write, “we have not been able to explain why so many high quality farms have been enrolled as opposed to more marginal lands.
“Some young and beginning farmers have lost land as their landlords have decided to enroll their farms in CRP instead of renting it to be farmed. With the competitive nature of farming today, you can imagine how young farmers feel losing productive farmland to CRP.
Grassley and Ernst ask Vilsack whether USDA enrolls acres in CRP “without conducting a competitive analysis based on the highly erodible land index,” and whether the program emphasizes enrolling entire farms instead of only marginal acres.
“CRP is an important program that offers landowners alternative ways to derive value from their land while providing environmental benefits to the surrounding area,” the letter says.
“However, we must ensure the program is properly administered and stays true to its original intent while using taxpayer dollars in the most effective manner possible.”
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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