WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) on Feb. 14 urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure that only land that addresses key environmental concerns, such as water quality and soil erosion, be eligible for future enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

NGFA also urged USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) to avoid enrollment of large, productive tracts of land best suited to production of agricultural commodities, and advised that when the agency computes the costs and benefits of land offered for enrollment, that soil productivity be given significant weighting.

NGFA made the recommendation to FSA in response to its rulemaking seeking comments on the agency's environmental impact analysis required to implement changes in the CRP mandated by the 2014 farm law.

NGFA commented that with a growing world population, increased global demand for U.S. agricultural products and the ever-present importance of food security, U.S. government policies should not focus on idling vast tracks of productive farm ground - including whole farms - through the CRP.

Instead, NGFA said FSA should refocus its efforts to meet the goals of today's CRP to selectively enroll cropland and marginal pastureland that benefit water quality and reduces soil erosion, which would be strengthened through greater use of continuous sign-ups and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program enrollments, and only if necessary, general sign-ups that are targeted solely to address similar environmental concerns and that are focused on smaller, more fragile and less-productive tracts.

NGFA also urged FSA to cap CRP rental rates at the cash rent rate for non-irrigated cropland as reported by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service because CRP rental rates in the past have greatly exceeded cash rent rates in a large number of counties, causing distortions in rental decisions by landowners. NGFA recommended targeting less-productive soils and smaller tracts for CRP enrollment to help alleviate the perceived need for high CRP rental rates; landowners are more likely to accept lower CRP rental rates on the least-productive portions of their farms.

FSA indicated in its environmental impact statement that it is considering a more targeted CRP enrollment method, and that it may employ a "reverse-auction" approach to maximize environmental benefits per federal dollar spent.