Hunting, wildlife and conservation groups are pitching that the incoming Biden administration make multiple changes to the Conservation Reserve Program to boost its acreage.
In a news release Thursday, the coalition of groups highlighted that CRP acreage, at 21.9 million acres, is the lowest enrollment since 1987, and the Farm Service Agency hasn't worked to effectively implement the 2018 farm bill, which boosted the CRP acreage cap from 24 million acres to 27 million acres over the life of the farm bill. The groups pointed out FSA has changed how rental rates are calculated, reduced incentives, eliminated management cost-share and failed to roll out forest conservation practices. All of these changes are "leaving millions of potential CRP acres on the table," the groups stated.
“Congress sent a clear message in the 2018 Farm Bill that USDA should boost enrollment of CRP acres, but instead we saw the 13th straight year of declining CRP acreage,” said Duane Hovorka, agriculture program director at the Izaak Walton League of America. “The soil, water, and wildlife benefits of the program are too valuable to put at risk by shortchanging farmers on CRP payments.”
The groups propose the Biden administration, once in office, increase CRP enrollment with changes such as restoring soil productivity as an adjusting factor in rental-rate calculations; increasing practice incentives that were greatly reduced in recent years; re-establishing a cost-share for mid-contract management practices; and accelerating the roll out of forest management incentives that have been delayed.
USDA last held a general CRP sign up from Dec. 9, 2019 to Feb. 28, 2020, though continuous sign-up is ongoing. That sign-up period brought in 3.4 million acres, but 5.4 million acres expired in the program in October 2020.
While the 2018 farm bill expanded acreage, Congress also lowered rental rates in the program. That push came after young and beginning farmers criticized CRP rental rates as being too high and making it difficult for them to rent land.
The groups advocating for changes in the program include the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Western Landowners Alliance.
On a website, www.crpworks.org, the groups point out, "CRP is the greatest ally in preserving habitat for hunting and fishing on private lands."
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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