ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, US — The National Grain and Feed Association is urging the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider how raising the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) rental rates will negatively impact the US agriculture industry.

Launched in 1985, CRP is a voluntary private-lands conservation where producers and landowners establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Lands enrolled in CRP also play a role in mitigating impacts from climate change, and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has added a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for practices that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While the NGFA does support the USDA in wanting to preserve lands and circumventing climate change the association is concerned about the amount of agricultural land that will be taken out of production.

According to the NGFA, the USDA is offering CRP rental rates 10% more than the maximum allowed by the 2018 farm law.

On June 14, the USDA set deadlines for the CRP General and Grasslands signups. The USDA said both signups are competitive and provide for annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

“We are excited to roll out our new and improved CRP General and Grasslands signups,” said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the FSA. “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 signups are part of a broader suite of tools available through CRP to integrate key conservation practices on our nation’s working lands.”

The NGFA worries the increase in rental rates will decrease productive farmland and lead to a competitive disadvantage globally.

“The NGFA and its members encourage efforts to preserve fragile lands and enhance environmental benefits,” said Michael Seyfert, president and chief executive officer of the NGFA. “NGFA is fully supportive of working lands programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), because they provide incentives to help producers adopt best management practices to maintain and expand their output while improving environmental outcomes. However, NGFA is deeply concerned with proposals to expand the CRP that will take significant acreage out of production and place the US 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.

“The 2018 farm law established the maximum CRP rental rates for land enrolled through general sign-ups at 85% of each county’s average cash rental rate and 90% for land enrolled under continuous CRP sign-ups. 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. We look forward to working with USDA to promote conservation in a manner that enhances environmental benefits while preserving US agricultural productivity and competitiveness and maintaining access to farmland for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.”