USDA to raise CRP payment rates to get more acres
Troubled by farmers’ and landowners’ lack of enthusiasm for enrolling land in the Conservation Reserve Program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation.
Vilsack announced the changes at a meeting of the National Climate Task Force, and the White House in turn highlighted the announcement in a readout of the task force meeting. (For a broader look at the task force meeting, see top story.)
Vilsack also announced investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials.
“Sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you. With CRP, the United States has one of the world’s most successful voluntary conservation programs. We need to invest in CRP and let it do what it does best — preserve topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the impacts of climate change,” said Vilsack. “We also recognize that we can’t do it alone. At the White House Climate Leaders Summit this week, we will engage leaders from all around the world to partner with us on addressing climate change. Here at home, we’re working in partnership with producers and local organizations through USDA programs to bring new voices and communities to the table to help combat climate change.”
Conservation Reserve Program
USDA’s goal is to enroll up to 4 million new acres in CRP by raising rental payment rates and expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program.
CRP has a long track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon, and reducing nitrogen runoff, as well as providing healthy habitat for wildlife, but today USDA emphasized that CRP “is a powerful tool when it comes to climate mitigation, and acres currently enrolled in the program mitigate more than 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If USDA reaches its goal of enrolling an additional 4 million acres into the program, it will mitigate an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent and prevent 90 million pounds of nitrogen and 33 million tons of sediment from running into our waterways each year.”
To target the program on climate change mitigation, the Farm Service Agency, which manages the CRP, is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous signups that aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-Smart CRP practices include establishment of trees and permanent grasses, development of wildlife habitat, and wetland restoration. The Climate-Smart Practice Incentive is annual, and the amount is based on the benefits of each practice type.
In 2021, CRP is capped at 25 million acres, and currently 20.8 million acres are enrolled. Furthermore, the cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023.
To help increase producer interest and enrollment, FSA is:
▪ Adjusting soil rental rates. This enables additional flexibility for rate adjustments, including a possible increase in rates where appropriate.
▪ Increasing payments for practice incentives from 20% to 50%. This incentive for continuous CRP practices is based on the cost of establishment and is in addition to cost share payments.
▪ Increasing payments for water quality practices. Rates are increasing from 10% to 20% for certain water quality benefiting practices available through the CRP continuous signup, such as grassed waterways, riparian buffers, and filter strips.
▪ Establishing a CRP Grassland minimum rental rate. This benefits more than 1,300 counties with rates currently below the minimum.
Enhanced natural resource benefits
To boost impacts for natural resources, FSA is:
▪ Moving State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices to the CRP continuous signup. Unlike the general signup, producers can sign up year-round for the continuous signup and be eligible for additional incentives.
▪ Establishing National Grassland Priority Zones. This aims to increase enrollment of grasslands in migratory corridors and environmentally sensitive areas.
▪ Making Highly Erodible Land Initiative (HELI) practices available in both the general and continuous signups.
Expanding prairie pothole soil health and watershed programs
CRP has two pilot programs ― the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP) and the Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers 30-year contracts (CLEAR30).
For SHIPP, which is a short-term option (3-, 4-, or 5-year contracts) for farmers to plant cover on less productive agricultural lands, FSA will hold a 2021 signup in the Prairie Pothole states. The CLEAR30 pilot, a long-term option through CRP, will be expanded from the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay pilot regions to nationwide.
USDA technical assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is critical to enable producers to plan and implement conservation practices that are appropriate for their needs. To ensure increased enrollment and support for producers, USDA is increasing NRCS technical assistance capacity for CRP by $140 million.
Additionally, in order to better target the program toward climate outcomes, USDA will invest $10 million in the CRP Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation (MAE) program to measure and monitor the soil carbon and climate resilience impacts of conservation practices over the life of new CRP contracts. This will enable the agency to further refine the program and practices to provide producers tools for increased climate resilience.
CrowderMichael 2020 NACD
National Association of Conservation District President Michael Crowder applauded the announcement, saying that “inadequate compensation for landowners has led to low enrollment in the program in the past year. These increased rental rates and incentives are critical to ensuring farmers are appropriately compensated for participating in CRP. With these incentives in place, we hope to see full enrollment in the program.”
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Policy Director Eric Deeble said, “The Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP), including its Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative, represent the most cost-effective and beneficial enrollments in the program. The reversal of the previous administration’s reduction in the CCRP Practice Incentive Payments and rental rate bonus, together with the new climate-smart practice incentive, will put the CCRP and CLEAR back on track, sending a clear signal to farmers that enrollments of high-payoff practices like riparian buffers, prairie strips, and grass waterways will be worth their while. This is very welcome news for Earth Day, and NSAC applauds Secretary Vilsack for moving quickly to reverse the tide.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee said, “The Chesapeake Bay Foundation welcomes Secretary Vilsack’s efforts to improve the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and applauds USDA for sending a clear signal that it is a priority for the Biden administration. Enrolling land in CRP not only helps improve and protect water quality, it can also help farmers contribute to greenhouse gas reductions and make their land more resilient to the more frequent and intense storms, flooding, and other related weather extremes.
“A part of the CRP called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) has helped bay region farmers finance the majority of forested buffers in the watershed. Buffers are an essential, cost-effective practice bay states are relying on to reduce nutrient runoff into the bay and its waterways. Unfortunately, CREP enrollment in the watershed has dropped dramatically in recent years.
“These investments, along with CREP improvements in the 2018 farm bill, will invigorate one of the most important USDA programs for restoring the bay,” McGee added. “We thank USDA for its leadership and urge the department to partner with the states and work expeditiously to make these critical reforms, so farmers in the bay watershed and around the country can reap financial rewards they’ve earned for the public benefits they are providing.”
Mike Seyfert, president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, which represents country elevators, suppliers and transporters and has traditionally expressed reservations about programs that take land out of agricultural production, said, “NGFA looks forward to working with Congress and the Biden administration on promoting working lands conservation programs as climate-smart solutions that keep U.S. agriculture competitive. The NGFA believes CRP should be targeted at the most environmentally sensitive portions of farms, and avoid enrollment of whole farms or large tracts of productive farmland. Programs that drastically increase acreage idling in the United States send market signals to competitors to plant more acres, resulting in negative climate and environmental impacts. We look forward to hearing additional details from USDA and working with the department to ensure this acreage is targeted for the most substantial environmental benefits while preserving U.S. agricultural productivity and competitiveness.”
–The Hagstrom Report
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