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For Immediate Release – July 20, 2005
Contact: Ferd Hoefner - 202-547-5754

Groups Issue CRP Re-enrollment Policy Letter

Thirteen conservation, agricultural, and environmental organizations today told the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) they are strongly opposed to allowing extensive automatic Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract re-enrollments. The groups said they are united in a strong preference for continued reliance on competitive bidding to maximize environmental benefits. They suggested USDA use targeted, staggered short-term extensions of CRP contracts to lessen the administrative burden of dealing with a huge number of re-enrollment decisions in any given year. The full letter to USDA’s Farm Service Agency is included below.

The CRP is the largest federal agricultural conservation program, utilizing approximately $2 billion a year to retire nearly 35 million acres of farmland from production. Originally authorized under the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP is a voluntary program that provides incentives to landowners to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and instead establish protective vegetative cover of grass or trees, helping to save soil and create wildlife habitat. The CRP is authorized to expand to as many as 39 million acres.

In 2007, 2008, and 2009, CRP contracts will expire on 16 million acres, 6 million acres, and 4 million acres, respectively, for a total of 26 million acres or three-quarters of the total reserve. In response to this pending turnover, President Bush announced last August, 2004 that USDA would offer contract extensions and early re-enrollment options. USDA’s Farm Service Agency subsequently solicited public comment on a wide variety of questions related to implementation of these options, receiving comments from 570 individuals and organizations. On June 24, 2005 FSA also held a public forum to hear from leading farm, commodity and conservation organizations about CRP policy options.

In addition to urging contract extensions and a continued reliance on competition, the joint letter urges FSA to reserve at least 7 million acres in total for CRP contracts under two special sub-programs: the continuous sign-up CRP and the CRP enhancement program. Both of these programs target enrollments of specific high priority conservation practices, including conservation buffer strips, which do not require setting aside whole farms to deliver important environmental benefits. Unlike the general CRP, landowners may signup for these special programs at any time, rather than during specific sign-up periods, and do not have to compete against other proposals and bids. Nearly 3 million acres have already been enrolled in these two sub-programs.

The letter also urges FSA to develop transition strategies for CRP land that is not re-enrolled in the program. Generally, from 10% to as many as 25% of expiring contracts are not re-enrolled. In particular, the groups suggest that landowners who choose not to re-enroll whole fields and farms be nonetheless encouraged to leave conservation buffers enrolled in the program by making use of the continuous sign-up and enhancement programs. The groups also suggested that landowners be encouraged to enroll the rest of their land into the Conservation Security Program (CSP), the new 2002 Farm Bill program to support advanced environmental performance on land in agricultural production.

The groups also urge FSA to work with them to help secure legislation to provide landowners with voluntary targeted long-term easement options within the CRP to secure long-term resource protection and to reduce program costs.

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