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How to Fix the CRP

Grazing and bidding process reforms are a couple ways.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is at its lowest ebb right now since 1988, as it is now limited to 24 million acres enrolled. There are proposals, though, to increase its scope and alter it.

“There is lots of reform that could be done with the CRP, and we are working on it,” says Rep. Collin Peterson (DFL-MN). “When we had low prices in the ’80s, the best thing you could do was CRP. It got land out of production and raised (crop) prices.”

Peterson addressed the CRP options to members of the North American Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ) at NAAJ’s annual meeting last month in Washington, D.C.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is sponsoring legislation to boost the CRP cap by 25% to 30 million acres. He has also proposed allowing grazing on CRP acreage at certain times and at certain percentages established by the county FSA committee for Livestock Forage Program purposes.

Thune is also proposing that vegetative cover be mechanically harvested every three years on land enrolled in CRP under all practices. No more than one third could be harvested each year, with a 25% reduction in CRP rental payments for each acre mechanically harvested. There would be no restriction, except for harvest for seed, on the use of the vegetative cover mechanically harvested.

Such proposals intrigue Peterson.

“I don’t have any disagreement with what is trying to do,” he says. “I just wonder how to make a three-year program work and how you establish cover for three years. It is not easy to do.”

Peterson supports opening the CRP to haying and grazing.

“That should have been done a long time ago,” he says. “It has been opposed by cattlemen who say (CRP farmers and/or landowners) are getting free feed. From a conservation standpoint, the best way to manage CRP is to put cattle on it. It is better than burning or mowing, and you also get economic activity from it.”

Besides being popular with landowners and farmers, wildlife groups like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited are also on board, Peterson adds.

Hurdles remain besides legislative ones, though.

“The biggest problem with CRP is that it is not fenced,” he says. “Without a fence, grazing doesn’t work.”

Reforms

Peterson would like to see the CRP bidding process formed. In his district, there have been CRP bids $100 per acre over the local cash rent price.

“It is somewhat out of control what they are paying for this stuff,” he says.

Peterson also would like to see more flexibility in scaling back CRP seed mix requirements. “These are very expensive,” he says.

Exotic species also helped prompt seed producers to source seed far away from states like Arkansas and Tennessee. Unfortunately, this sourcing also scooped up Palmer amaranth in some cases, which then infested conservation plantings in Minnesota and Iowa.

“All this needs to get untangled,” Peterson says. “You don’t need 17 different varieties in mixes. You can get what you need with far fewer.”

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