Wheat harvest
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) on March 15 commended the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate designed to reform the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to target enrollment of truly environmentally sensitive acres.

The legislation (S. 2557) was introduced on March 15 by Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Bob Casey, D-Pa., each of whom serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee. The "Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work" (GROW) Act would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to modify the CRP to avoid enrollment of productive farmland that can be cropped in environmentally sustainable ways, as well as generally prohibit the enrollment of whole farms. It also would invest scarce conservation dollars on working lands conservation programs, as long advocated by the NGFA.

Randy Gordon president and chief executive officer of the NGFA
NGFA President Randy Gordon
"We commend Sens. Ernst, Grassley, Brown and Casey for introducing this bipartisan legislation to guide the development of the conservation title of the Senate's farm bill," said NGFA President Randy Gordon. "We believe it is important that the next farm bill look to the future by providing opportunities for the next generation of American farmers to access land to build economically viable farm enterprises without having to compete against existing artificially high CRP rental rates and other CRP policies that currently create substantial barriers to entry. Reversing this trend is essential to the future lifeblood of rural communities.

"Focusing CRP on environmentally sensitive acres also enhances the sustainability of U.S. agriculture and is essential to enabling the United States to remain competitive in international markets and to capture the increasing global demand for food and fiber," Gordon added.

Among other things, the GROW Act would cap CRP rental rates for acres enrolled under general sign-ups to 80% of a county's average cash rental rate. Currently, CRP rental rates often are considerably higher than local farmland cash rental rates, thereby pitting the U.S. government as a competitor against young and beginning farmers trying to enter production agriculture and remain in rural communities. 

The NGFA also noted that based upon the most recent data available, more than 25% of the 24 million acres now enrolled in the CRP consists of productive farmland. The GROW Act also would retain the current CRP enrollment cap at 24 million acres.

"This bipartisan legislation is a positive step forward in retargeting the CRP away from enrolling large tracts of productive farmland, and provides concepts that warrant serious consideration as development of the next farm bill proceeds," NGFA said.