It was designed to do two things: take land out of production in an effort to increase commodity prices and improve conservation on environmentally sensitive land. But the Conservation Reserve Program has been tweaked since its 1985 inception to meet various environmental, agricultural and government needs through the years.
One of the key components of this week's "CRP: Planting for the Future" conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, is the opportunity for interest groups to offer suggestions to update and improve the Conservation Reserve Program. Here are thoughts from representatives of several interest groups:
- American Farm Bureau Federation: Generally, the AFBF is not supportive of haying and grazing, according to the federation's Don Parrish. Enrolled acres should not impact adjacent landowners. The AFBF wants a cap of 35 to 40 million acres.
- National Grain and Feed Association: According to Kendall Keith, president of the NGFA, a more balanced CRP program is needed. Signup needs to be shifted from idling whole farms and instead, emphasize water quality. The NGFA wants a cap on 25% of productive acres in a county and consider adjusting the overall cap downward to permit increased crop production.
- The Soil and Water Conservation Society: Longer term contracts, which could reduce the program's cost. For example, at the end of a 10-year contract, allow renewal to occur at 50% of the contract rate of the going rate for another 10 years. Bump up the rate to 75% of the contract rate for a 20-year renewal; 100% for 30-year renewal. The SWCS would like the cap raised to 45 million acres, according to Max Schnepf, retired director of public affairs for the Society. Other suggestions: raise rents to compete with rising cropland rental rates; promote "landscape scale" payments for farmers who group together toward a common conservation objective and allow haying and grazing on buffers, not on Continuous CRP.
- Wildlife Management Institute: "We want more acres of CRP. Wildlife needs can be met by CRP. Don't forget there is an urban population center that looks at wildlife as conservation. These are the people that support farm programs," says Ron Helinski, conservation policy specialist. The WMI advocates flexibility for the programs, because some programs may work on one farm, but not the farm across the road. The WMI says more than 50 million acres of CRP are needed to meet its wildlife objectives.
- National Association of Conservation Districts: This group applauds how the program has evolved over the years and its ability to prevent cropland erosion, according to Marc Curtis, secretary/treasurer of the NACD. The NACD would like more geographic disbursement; most of the acres are enrolled between the Mississippi River and the Continental Divide.
- National Cattlemen's Beef Association: According to Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, NCBA supports haying and grazing of CRP ground only in the case of emergencies. Before allowing new enrollment or re-enrollment, the NCBA wants analysis of how CRP affects the economies of rural communities.
- Environmental Defense: A fan of CRP, the Environmental Defense says there are opportunities to improve. With 16 million acres of CRP due to be retired in 2007, the acreage needs to be spread out. Re-enroll some farms; let some come out early. For those re-enrolled, plant to a native species to benefit native wildlife. More partial field enrollments should be enrolled to improve water quality; whole-farm enrollments do little to improve water. And land managers need more than the $5 per acre to maintain CRP acreage, says Tim Searchinger, senior attorney with Environmental Defense.
- Ducks Unlimited: This organization prefers enrollment of large tracts of land, which improve the duck habitat. CRP has been a boon to the duck population, says Steve Adair, director of conservation programs for the group's Great Plains office. From 1992-97, duck population has increased 46% for five common duck species in the upper Great Plains.