Competition for Conservation Efforts

High crop and land prices are competing with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a voluntary program that helps agricultural producers use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits.

Producers enrolled in the CRP maintain long-term, resource-conserving ground cover to control soil erosion, improve water and air quality and enhance wildlife habitat. While land is typically enrolled in the program for 10 or 15 years before it can be re-enrolled, it’s going to be difficult to convince farmers to do so this year.

“Currently, about 30 million acres are in the program,” said Brent Sohngen, agricultural economist with The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. “But with crops reaching higher prices, such as soybeans, which increased 9.5 percent last month to $13.13 a bushel, more farmers are likely to consider returning their farmland to crops rather than participating in CRP.”

This year, contracts covering more than 6.5 million acres of CRP land will expire — the second-largest turnover in its 26-year history according to USDA data. In total, the amount of land in the CRP has decreased since 1988, decreasing 20 percent from a peak of 36.7 million acres in 2007.

A recent Chicago Tribune article states that while not all of the conservation land will be suitable for crops, economists say as much as half may be put back into farming for the first time in decades.

Throughout Ohio, about 338,117 acres of farmland are currently enrolled in the conservation program and of those, 26,561 acres are set to expire this year.

According to an Ohio’s Country Journal article, in a move to encourage farmers to enroll a maximum of 1 million new acres of land into the CRP, the USDA increased a one-time signing bonus for the program to $150 per acre from $100. However, the increase was only available to owners of approved land that featured wetlands and benefited duck-nesting habitats and certain animal species.

Farmers had until April 6 to register for the CRP. In May the USDA will reveal how many acres are enrolled. It will be interesting to see what this impact will be.

Did you or do you know a farmer who enrolled in the CRP? What do you think about the program? Do you think we’ll continue to see a decrease in the number of acres enrolled in this year’s program?

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