WASHINGTON, April 10, 2017 – After his state was shorted in recent enrollment of Conservation Reserve Program contracts, South Dakota Sen. John Thune is suggesting the next farm bill give the program a higher acreage cap and more flexibility.
In a release on Monday, Thune, a Republican who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, proposed a CRP cap of 30 million acres and expanded haying and crazing on land under a contract. The cap would be a 6 million acre increase from the current 24 million acre limit imposed by the 2014 farm bill.
“CRP is a popular program in South Dakota, but due to expiring contracts, the state is expected to lose 57 percent of its existing CRP acres over the years covered by the 2018 farm bill,” Thune said in the release. “After receiving feedback from stakeholders throughout South Dakota, it was clear that we needed to make some changes.”
The idea of an increased acreage cap has come up at farm organization meetings in recent months. Groups were largely supportive, with some opting not to include a specific number in their policy book. Farmers enrolled in CRP receive an annual payment in exchange for agreeing to remove environmentally sensitive land from production.
Thune justifies the 30 million acre cap based on a 10-year average annual enrollment of about 29.7 million acres. Thus, rounding the acreage cap up, he says, “establishes a reasonable and defensible CRP acreage cap for the duration of the next farm bill,” according to a fact sheet from his office.
USDA wrapped up its 49th general CRP signup in February 2016, and many states experienced sizable cuts to participation in the program. Thune’s native South Dakota was arguably hit hardest by the decreased program availability; just 101 acres were enrolled of the more than 42,000 acres offered. Nationwide, just 22 percent of offered acres were enrolled.
That signup also concentrated new acres in four states where the contracts were deemed most eligible by the Department of Agriculture. Thune’s plan also includes a formula to set target acreage enrollment for states. That formula (state 10-year CRP enrollment divided by national 10-year CRP enrollment times national acreage cap) would be implemented by the Agriculture Secretary for the duration of the 2018 farm bill.
Thune is also floating the idea of new rules that would adjust haying and grazing rules for CRP acres. In exchange for a 25 percent reduction on grazed CRP acres, Thune suggests allowing for annual grazing at 25 percent of the stocking rate determined by local Farm Service Agency officials and removing any restrictions on grazing during the primary nesting period for wildlife.
In exchange for a 25 percent decrease in payment, Thune also suggests allowing haying on CRP acres on a rotating basis. Under the rotation, a third of the acres on a contract could be harvested every year. His office suggests this would eliminate the need for emergency haying and grazing as well as assist in weed control.
Those and a number of other proposals were introduced as legislation (S.909) on Friday shortly before Congress began its April recess. A source close to the discussion says the Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the suggestions.