FAQ: My neighbor was able to take advantage of a provision in the USDA program to get paid an extra two years of CRP payments. His CRP contract was expiring, so with FSA's blessing he leased that land to a beginning farmer and got the bonus. Now, FSA tells me I can't do that because the program is out of money. What's up?
Answer: We checked with the FSA state office in Des Moines. Yes, USDA's Conservation Reserve Program has a provision to provide a financial incentive for landowners, to get them to transition land from expiring CRP contracts to beginning farmers. This CRP provision, provided by the 2008 Farm Bill, has been quite successful. Trouble is, it has run out of money.
USDA's Farm Service Agency in late February announced it has allocated all the funding available for the Conservation Reserve Program's Transition Incentives Program or CRP-TIP. For this provision of the CRP, the 2008 Farm Bill provided $25 million as an incentive for landowners or operators to transition land from an expiring CRP contract to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer. Transitioning means that the owner or operator agrees to sell, has a contract to sell or leases the land for a minimum of 5 years to the beginning farmer.
While the CRP-TIP provision has reached its $25 million funding limit, hopefully it will be included and funded again in the new 2012 farm bill Congress is now in the process of writing.
Retiring CRP landowners get additional two years of payments
That beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer who would be farming the land has to return the land to production for sustainable grazing or crop production, with additional measures to develop and implement the required conservation plans or system. Retiring landowners are provided an additional two years of CRP payments on land that is transferred to a new farmer under CRP-TIP.
FSA stopped accepting offers for CRP-TIP on February 24 as the funding provided by the farm bill has been depleted. FSA also released a state-by-state summary of land enrolled or with pending enrollment in the program as of late February.
Overall, CRP-TIP has 1,626 contracts enrolled or pending enrollment, covering 260,523 acres of land in 26 states. Not surprisingly, the top 10 states for number of CRP-TIP contracts, both enrolled and pending, include most of the top CRP states: North Dakota, 346; Kansas, 219; Montana, 206; Nebraska, 145; Minnesota, 117; Missouri, 94; Iowa, 84; Kentucky, 59; Texas, 49; Pennsylvania 37 and Idaho 37 (tied).
Will this provision be reinstated in new 2012 farm bill?
Currently about 29.6 million acres are enrolled in CRP. Contracts for almost 6.5 million acres nationwide are scheduled to expire at the end of September 2012 and an additional 3.3 million acres are scheduled to expire in 2013.
"It is critical for CRP-TIP to be included in the new 2012 farm bill, and we are encouraged by the fact it was included in the draft farm bill that was constructed for the congressional 'super committee' last fall," says Martha Noble, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition or NSAC.
"Unfortunately, now that the 2008 Farm Bill funding for CRP-TIP has been fully used, the program has come to a screeching halt at the worst time, as 6.5 million CRP contract acres are scheduled to expire later this year," she notes. "We are calling on USDA and Congress to work out an interim arrangement to allow CRP-TIP to continue under the regular CRP budget. The win-win opportunity to retain conservation while advancing new farming opportunities is too valuable to allow it to languish during the year of its maximum utility."
CRP-TIP was part of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2007 introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) among others. NSAC developed the policy proposal for this program and worked for its inclusion in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Providing access to land for beginning farmers is needed
"CRP-TIP has helped new farmers overcome a big barrier--access to land," says Noble. "In addition, CRP-TIP requires USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to reach out to beginning farmers with information about the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which have resources to help beginners and limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers establish sustainable farming systems."
Many NSAC member organizations worked within their states to ensure that word about the program got out to retiring landowners with expiring CRP contracts and to aspiring new farmers. Traci Bruckner, assistant director for rural policy at the Center for Rural Affairs, currently serves as chair of USDA's Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. She observes, "The Farm Service Agency should be commended for their outreach on CRP-TIP. The program has proved its value and should be continued."
A proposal for CRP-TIP reauthorization is included in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 (S. 1850, H.R. 3236). That bill, sponsored by Harkin, Walz and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), is a comprehensive proposal to align farm bill programs with the goal of getting a new generation of family farmers started in agriculture. The act was introduced with the aim of getting its provisions included in the 2012 Farm Bill. More information on the bill is at sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/beginning-farmer-bill/.
Summing up: This provision of the CRP program rewards landowners who help beginning farmers gain access to CRP land. However, while this feature of the CRP has been successful it has recently run out of money. Hopefully, the transition incentive will be funded again in new 2012 farm bill.