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Future Of The CRP Program

Written by: Kent Thiesse

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is likely to be a key focal point during the development of the next Farm Bill in the coming months. In an era when the Congress and the Administration are looking to reduce the Federal budget deficit, there will be pressure to reduce the current annual expenditure of just under $2.0 billion on the CRP program, including about $1.7 billion in annual rental payments. Most experts expect the size of the CRP program to be reduced from the current maximum level of 32 million acres to around a maximum of 25 million acres in the next Farm Bill.  

In 2011, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) celebrated its 25th anniversary, and over two and a half decades of conservation success. CRP was originally established in the 1985 Farm Bill, and today has over 400,000 landowners participating, most of which are farmers and ranchers, and currently has over 29.6 million acres under some-type of CRP contracts.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited the CRP program as the largest and most important conservation program in recent decades in this Country. CRP continues to make major contributions to national efforts to improve water and air quality, prevent soil erosion, protect environmentally sensitive land, and enhance wildlife populations, Some of the benefits of the CRP program over the past two and a half decades cited by USDA include :

  • 450 million tons of soil erosion reduced annually.
  • Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into rivers, streams, and lakes in the U.S.
  • 2 million acres of wetlands and buffers restored.
  • 2 million acres of stream bank protected along rivers and streams.
  • Enhanced populations of ducks, pheasants, quail, and other wildlife species.
  • CRP provides over $1.7 billion per year to private landowners, which are dollars that help support local businesses and the local economy.
  • CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the U.S. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.
  • There are currently 43 Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) in 32 States in targeted watersheds, which has generated over $ 1 billion in additional State and private funds for Federal conservation efforts through CRP.

Another General CRP is being held in 2012, with the sign-up period continuing until April 6, 2012, at County FSA Offices; however, it is not clear what level of acres will be offered or accepted for re-enrollment into the CRP program. Most experts feel that there will not be enough acres offered in 2012 to keep the current CRP enrollment at the current level of 29.6 acres after September 30, 2012. The current CRP acreage cap of 32 million acres was set by the 2008 Farm Bill, which was a reduction from the maximum CRP acreage of 39 million acres from 2002-2008. General CRP contracts are typically 10-15 year contracts that expire September 30th in a given year. 

Following is the listing of expiring CRP acres in the U.S. on September 30th for the next four years :

  • 2012 ----- 6.5 million acres
  • 2013 ----- 3.3 million acres
  • 2014 ----- 2.0 million acres
  • 2015 ----- 1.7 million acres

About 75 percent of the CRP acres in the U.S. are in ten States, which are Texas, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, Missouri, and South Dakota. The percentage of CRP acres expiring in 2012 from these ten States is very similar, with North Dakota having 838,223 CRP acres expiring in 2012, followed by Texas with 827,750 expiring acres. Minnesota has 290,064 CRP acres expiring in 2012, while Iowa has 230,856 acres expiring.

The current annual CRP payment in the U.S. is $57.26 per acre, with widely varying CRP rental rates from State-to-State, based on average land rental rates. Keeping CRP acres enrolled in Midwestern States, where average land rental rates are much higher, will likely be much more expensive in the future. Others feel we need to reduce CRP acreage in the future due to need for expanded U.S. grain production to meet the demand for more World food and increased renewable energy production in the U.S. On the other hand, the CRP program remains extremely popular with many farm, wildlife, and environmental organizations, as well as with members of Congress.

The bottom-line is that the CRP program has over twenty-five years of success of protecting sensitive environmental lands, reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife. The CRP program is very popular with farmers, the general public, and with policy makers, and CRP will likely continue to be a major USDA conservation program. However, economic pressures, the need for renewable energy, and the worldwide need for more food may lead to some changes in the future for the CRP program, compared to what CRP has looked like in the past two and a half decades.



Note --- For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst and Vice President, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN.

              Phone --- (507) 381-7960) 

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