From Ducks Unlimited
-- In a move contrary to several weeks of speculation, the Department of Agriculture announced that they would not allow acres of the popular Conservation Reserve Program to be put into production without repayment. The announcement was made by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, who cited robust corn and soybean yields and less-than-expected crop damage as the reasons to not change the program.
"We are very happy to hear that Ducks Unlimited's concerns, and the needs of wildlife, were heard by the USDA," said Ducks Unlimited Director of Agriculture Conservation Policy Barton James. "The Conservation Reserve Program is the 'holy grail' of conservation, and we are pleased the USDA will maintain the program and the benefits that it has had."
CRP has been a windfall for wildlife - adding more than 2.2 million ducks to the annual migration, and more than 13.5 million pheasants to the prairies. These numbers contribute to the $76 billion engine of wildlife-based recreation that employs more than 1.6 million people. The ducks reared on CRP land in North and South Dakota help fuel tourism throughout the nation, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas and westward to the Central Valley of California.
"Losing CRP acres would have had a ripple effect on the American economy - lower bag limits and shorter seasons, both of which will decrease the money that sportsmen contribute to the economy and conservation," said James. "Not to mention the lost jobs, the environmental degradation, and the loss of land held in reserve for future crises."
Not all of the news released about CRP was positive, however. Secretary Schafer commented that one of the factors in the decision to not allow acres out without repayment was that many landowners were choosing to take their land out and paying back the rental rates and interest from their contracts. USDA figures have shown a 50% increase in the number of landowners removing their land from the program in the past year.
Schafer also said that there are millions of acres of land with expiring contracts over the next several years, with 1.1 million acres set to expire in September 2008, and 8 million more acres during the following two years. The overall enrollment in CRP needs to drop to accommodate the lower acreage cap placed by the 2008 Farm Bill, which became law last month. However supporters of the program fear that the acreage will drop from the 39.2 million acres previously authorized, past the 34.7 million acres currently enrolled, to levels far below the 32 million acres authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Rental rates on CRP land, which have been lagging behind the value of the land for crop production, will also remain unchanged, and will continue to hurt the popularity of the program. Because the rental rates are determined from land prices over the previous three years, the recent spike in commodities has left CRP rental rates vastly below the rental rates for crop production. Secretary Schafer also confirmed that there would be no new enrollment into the program.