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National Grain and Feed Association Submits Recommendations on Farm Bill Conservation Programs

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) gave many recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the implementation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that is included in the 2018 farm law.

On the intent to limit rental rates to better target CRP to marginal land, NGFA notes, “Too much productive farmland currently is enrolled in CRP, which undermines American agriculture’s ability long-term to compete in international markets. Reducing CRP rental rates should help focus future enrollments on less productive land. This policy change also benefits young and beginning farmers and ranchers who for too long have been forced to compete directly against the federal government to access land.”

The farm law imposes a statutory limit on CRP rental rates for the first time, requiring that CRP rental rates paid to farmers be adjusted to 90% of the county rate for continuous sign-ups and 85% for general sign-ups.

Alternative Rental Rates

However, Farm Service Agency (FSA) state offices and CRP partners can propose alternative CRP rental rates. NGFA recommends creating guidelines to ensure any adopted alternative CRP rental rate is at least as statistically representative of the average non-irrigated cropland cash rental rates as USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) custom rental rates that serve as the basis for CRP rental rates.

NGFA argues that without such guidelines, “alternative rates may represent fewer samples, less acreage or higher-value, productive farmland and lead to a subjective and distortive rate-setting process, thereby thwarting the intent of Congress and undermining U.S. agricultural competitiveness.”

Data and Land Use Reports

In addition, NGFA calls for reports on the current land use for all expired CRP land to provide a full accounting of CRP’s impact on cropland acreage. The reports would give policymakers a better grasp of the long-term impacts of CRP, which is a much bigger issue than the debate over the current acreage cap.

NGFA also recommends that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) maintain and publicly make available state- and county-level data on land purchased using federal assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The data would include the number of acres placed under conservation easements, the soil classification of the land, and the use of the land before and after implementation of the terms of the easement.

Finally, NGFA urges NRCS to disallow the use of ACEP to permanently cease or prevent crop production on land placed under conservation easements. NGFA believes policies that reduce the amount of cultivated U.S. cropland will accelerate the existing long-term decline of cropland and will weaken U.S. agriculture relative to major international ag export competitors. NRCS should instead focus ACEP on reducing urban sprawl.

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