Ag Policy Blog

Senators Call for USDA to Re-Establish Wildlife Program in CRP

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A Nebraska farm that specializes in wildlife habitat. Senators want USDA to restart allowing producers to include wildlife habitat enhancements under a farm-bill program as part of the Conservation Reserve Program. USDA stopped implement the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program in 2017. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

A bipartisan group of senators wrote Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week asking for USDA to prioritize the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement within the Conservation Reserve Program.

USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky testified Thursday before the Senate Agriculture Committee that the department will hold a general signup for CRP in December and a grasslands signup will follow.

Informa's Issue Monitor noted several senators had questions about CRP sign up. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., raised questions about acreage. The 2018 farm bill raised CRP acreage to 27 million, but event with continuous signup, CRP acreage is still closer to 22.3 million acres, keeping it below the old 24-million acre cap. Censky said the December enrollment is likely to be "the largest sign up ever," Informa stated.

The Food and Environment Reporting Network cited that several million acres may need to be enrolled as contracts expire in 2020 for 5.2 million acres as well.

Thune and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., led a letter with 15 other senators, (collectively, eight total Republicans and nine Democrats) pressing that they want to see USDA implement the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) though future continuous CRP enrollment. SAFE was created to help improve wildlife habitat as part of CRP practices. "By voluntarily enrolling their land in SAFE, landowners can also help avoid the need for future regulation through species listings, as in the case of the lesser prairie chicken, greater sage grouse and other high-priority candidate species."

In addition to rental payments, under SAFE the department would pay 50% of costs to pay for eligible permanent cover. USDA cans also provide a one-time sign up payment of $100 an acre paid after the contract is approved, and pay for 40% of the installation costs for SAFE practices.

SAFE was first part of the 2008 farm bill and used for more than 2 million acres. The senators added that according to FSA, 11 states have more than 90% of their allocated acres enrolled for SAFE while a total of 36 states have at least one project. But USDA has not made SAFE practices available nationally since 2017.

"We are concerned that the decision to limit these practices and associated cost-share incentives available in the recent continuous sign-ups, and excluding wildlife practices like SAFE, will decreased landowner interest in CRP and the effectiveness of the program. The statutory purpose of CRP is to 'conserve and improve the soil, water and wildlife resources' of enrolled land and 'address issues raised by state, regional and national conservation initiatives.' "

The senators urged USDA to make SAFE available for future CRP enrollment. https://www.thune.senate.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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