Thune urges USDA to improve CRP | TSLN.com

Thune urges USDA to improve CRP

According to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) Current USDA policy on CRP lands enrolled under certain continuous CRP signups does not allow participants to utilize the vegetative cover required to be removed under mid-contract management. Instead, CRP participants are paid to destroy this cover. Thune's letter urged USDA to stop requiring the destruction of vegetative cover on certain CRP contracts. Photo by Laurie Caspers

Thune Urges USDA to Improve CRP

Mid-contract haying/grazing would encourage CRP participation, save taxpayers money

WASHINGTON D.C.— Today Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) wrote U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that USDA stop requiring the destruction of vegetative cover on certain CRP contracts at a cost to taxpayers.

"CRP holds a significant role in the success of South Dakota's agriculture and rural economies," said Thune, "which is why USDA needs to make the common-sense policy modifications I am requesting that would make CRP more attractive to participants and save taxpayers money. Not only does CRP provide an economic alternative to farming marginal land, CRP's hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat in South Dakota have enhanced the economies of small towns and rural areas by supporting our pheasant and wildlife populations."

In his letter, Thune wrote, "Mid-contract management, conducted once on a 10-year contract and twice on a 15-year contract, is critical for enhancing permanent vegetative cover quality and wildlife productivity on CRP acreages. And, for certain practices, requires CRP participants to destroy the residue by baling and stacking the residue and burning it. The logic behind burning this vegetative cover, which could instead be used for feed, is not only difficult for producers and others to understand, but the burning creates a safety risk as well."

Senator Thune inserted language in the 2014 Farm Bill Report language which provides, "The Managers encourage the Secretary to utilize options other than burning for the disposal of residue removed from CRP lands as well as lands enrolled in a conservation easement, for contract management and maintenance." At a May 7, 2014 Senate Agriculture Committee Farm Bill implementation hearing, Thune recommend to Secretary Vilsack that these changes to CRP policy be made.

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Current USDA policy on CRP lands enrolled under certain continuous CRP signups does not allow participants to utilize the vegetative cover required to be removed under mid-contract management. Instead, CRP participants are paid to destroy this cover. As an alternative, Thune is recommending that in return for a 25 percent annual payment reduction, producers be allowed to use this residue or have no payment reduction if they choose to donate the residue to a third party. The haying and grazing would not be conducted during the primary nesting season and frequency would be according to midterm requirements established by state and national policy.

Thune's request is supported by the South Dakota State Farm Service Agency Committee, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the State Technical Committee.

The text of the senator's letter follows:

Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., SW

Washington, D.C. 20250

RE: Mid-contract management for CRP practices CP8A, CP9, CP15A, CP21, CP22, CP23, CP23A, CP24, CP25, CP27, CP28, CP29, CP30, CP33 CP37, SAFE wetlands practices, CP41, and CP42

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has provided landowners and operators an effective means of protecting marginal and fragile lands, enhanced wildlife populations, and has delivered emergency feed when severe drought and other natural disasters have occurred.

Although many blame increased commodity prices over the past few years for the reduced enrollment in CRP, another factor has contributed greatly to the decreasing interest in CRP participation—the current required destruction of residue removed from CRP land enrolled under several different conservation practices (CP). Destruction of this residue, rather than allowing it to be utilized as feed, is resulting in unnecessary CRP maintenance costs that make CRP a much less attractive and cost-effective program for enrollees. Additionally, payment for the destruction of this residue, which is far less than the actual cost to harvest and destroy the residue, results in needless costs to taxpayers.

Mid-contract management, conducted once on a 10-year contract and twice on a 15-year contract, is critical for enhancing permanent vegetative cover quality and wildlife productivity on CRP acreages. And, for certain practices, requires CRP participants to destroy the residue by baling and stacking the residue and burning it. The logic behind burning this vegetative cover, which could instead be used for feed, is not only difficult for producers and others to understand, but the burning creates a safety risk as well.

Practices CP8A, CP9, CP15A, CP21, CP22, CP23, CP23A, CP24, GP25, CP27, CP28, CP29, CP30, CP33 CP 37, CP 38-SAFE, CP41, and CP42 are subject to the current restriction of destroying residue removed under mid-contract management. Policy allows that managed haying and grazing, and emergency haying and grazing can be used in conjunction with mid-term activity; however, these activities are limited to only a select few practices and do not include the subject practices.

Several CRP participants and strong supporters of CRP in South Dakota have shared with me their displeasure over the restriction that permanent vegetative cover removed from land enrolled in any of the above-mentioned practices cannot be utilized in a practical and common sense manner in lieu of being destroyed. They are concerned that this requirement is a major factor in discouraging CRP enrollment in the subject practices.

The South Dakota State Farm Service Agency Committee, the State Technical Committee, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Ducks Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, and Pheasants Forever all support this request.

I strongly recommend that CRP participants with land enrolled under the subject practices have the choice of making commercial or personal use of the residue removed for mid-contract management or donating the residue to a third party instead of destroying the residue. The following would apply:

· A haying or grazing plan created by the Natural Resources Conservation Service must be followed.

· Midterm cost-share payments for removal and use of vegetative cover would not be paid.

· This would not apply if the residue is donated in the form of haying or grazing.

· A 25 percent reduction in annual CRP rental payment would be assessed.

· This would not apply if the residue is donated in the form of haying or grazing.

· The haying and grazing would not be conducted during the primary nesting season.

· Frequency would be according to midterm requirements as established by state and national policy.

As you pointed out at the May 7, 2014, Farm Bill implementation hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, emergency haying and grazing was authorized on many of these practices in 2012. As you know, an environmental analysis was completed in 2012 allowing haying and grazing under emergency release provisions for the subject practices.

Making this recommended change could potentially save $12 million in South Dakota for one required mid-contract management activity on 400,000 of the acres enrolled in these practices. This savings is based on the average continuous CRP rental rate average of $89.23 per acre a 25 percent payment reduction, and the forfeiture of the cost-share payment.

I strongly urge you to make this requested and common-sense change and allow utilization of residue removed from the subject practices for commercial or personal use beginning with mid-contract management in 2014. Doing so would not compromise the objectives of mid-contract management, but would dramatically improve the public perception of CRP and greatly increase CRP enrollment potential.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

JOHN THUNE

United States Senate

Cc: Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary, USDA

Tina May, Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary Harden

Juan Garcia, Administrator, FSA

–Senator John Thune