Ag Policy Blog

USDA Sets Deadlines for CRP General, Grasslands Sign-ups

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
This CRP ground in Nebraska was planted to boost wildlife habitat. USDA wants to see 4 million new acres enter the program. Still, the National Grain and Feed Association criticized the department for increasing CRP rental rates. (DTN file photo by Todd Neeley)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency on Monday set a July 23, 2021, deadline for agricultural producers and landowners to apply for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up.

Additionally, FSA said it will accept applications for CRP Grasslands from July 12 to August 20.

Both sign-ups are competitive and will provide for annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

FSA is adding a one-time "inflationary" adjustment for payment rates, as well as having more flexibility on adjusting soil rental rates.

FSA opened the general sign-up in January.

CRP Grasslands helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations, and improves environmental quality.

FSA has updated the Grasslands sign-up to establish a minimum rental rate of $15 per acre, as well as new National Grassland Priority Zones.

"We are excited to roll out our new and improved CRP general and Grasslands sign-ups," said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. "Bottom line, CRP now makes more financial sense for producers while also providing a bigger return on investment in terms of natural resource benefits. The general and Grasslands sign-ups are part of a broader suite of tools available through CRP to integrate key conservation practices on our nation's working lands."

USDA will open new enrollment for the program, looking to sign up to 4 million new acres. At 20.8 million acres enrolled now, CRP has continued to tick downward in acres each year since 2007 with enrollment nationally now at the lowest level since 1987.

The 2018 farm bill gave USDA approval to increase CRP acreage to as high as 25 million acres this year, but Congress also lowered rental rates to 85% of the average county rental rate for general sign-up and 90% for continuous CRP.

National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) President and CEO Mike Seyfert raised concern the announcement means USDA will offer CRP rental rates that are 10% more than the maximum allowed by the 2018 farm law.

"NGFA is deeply concerned with proposals to expand the CRP that will take significant acreage out of production and place the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage globally, while risking making it harder for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers to compete on rental rates and gain access to land needed to expand their operations," Seyfert said.

Seyfert added that Congress established the maximum CRP rental rate levels to help ensure CRP is targeting marginal farmland and not competing with farmers for productive farmland. NGFA supported these changes in the 2018 law and is concerned by USDA's decision to offer CRP rental rates exceeding the statutory maximums by 10% and believes the higher rates will lead to enrollment of productive farmland.

"This decision also runs counter to signals from the market encouraging farmers to maintain and expand production. Programs that increase acreage idling in the United States weaken our food and agricultural supply chains and send market signals to competitors to plant more acres, resulting in negative climate and environmental impacts," Seyfert said. "We look forward to working with USDA to promote conservation in a manner that enhances environmental benefits while preserving U.S. agricultural productivity and competitiveness and maintaining access to farmland for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers."

CRP has undergone a steady acreage decline during the past 15 years. CRP hit its peak in 2007 at 36.8 million acres and has steadily declined by 16 million acres since then. That's because funding has remained nearly constant. In 2007, CRP cost $1.72 billion and the program in FY 2020 cost $1.796 billion.

Four million additional acres would bump CRP acreage back up to the highest since 2014 when the program had 25.4 million acres enrolled. Yet, while USDA will be looking to add CRP acres, the program also has 3 million acres set to expire next September, and another 4 million acres set leave the program in September 2022.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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