Four ways the Biden Administration should boost Conservation Reserve Program enrollment
With just 21.9 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program—the lowest enrollment since 1987—hunting and fishing groups are calling on the incoming administration to restore the health of this popular Farm Bill program and its benefits to wildlife and landowners.
“There’s a chance to once again make the CRP a success story for pheasants, quail, big game, waterfowl, and pollinators, rather than a story of wasted potential for our lands, waters, and rural communities,” says Andrew Earl, director of private lands conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Besides the habitat benefits, the economic support this program can provide to farmers, ranchers, and forest owners couldn’t be more critical right now, but program managers need to rethink recent changes to make CRP an attractive option.”
Since the 2018 Farm Bill raised the total CRP acreage cap from 24 million to 27 million acres, in part to accommodate growing landowner interest, the Farm Service Agency has changed how rental rates are calculated, reduced incentives, eliminated management cost-shares, and failed to roll out forest conservation practices. This has led landowners to look elsewhere when evaluating how best to manage their lands, leaving millions of potential CRP acres on the table.
“Congress sent a clear message in the 2018 Farm Bill that USDA should boost enrollment of CRP acres, but instead we saw the 13th straight year of declining CRP acreage,” says Duane Hovorka, agriculture program director at the Izaak Walton League of America. “The soil, water, and wildlife benefits of the program are too valuable to put at risk by shortchanging farmers on CRP payments.”
A coalition of hunting, fishing, landowner, and conservation organizations suggests that the Biden-Harris Administration could boost enrollment in the CRP by:
- Immediately restoring soil productivity as an adjusting factor in rental-rate calculations
- Increasing practicing incentives that were greatly reduced in recent years
- Once again providing a cost-share for the mid-contract management of practices
- Accelerating the delayed rollout of forest management incentives
These recommendations are supported by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Western Landowners Alliance.
“The Conservation Reserve Program is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States and a cornerstone to American agriculture and wildlife conservation,” says Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “With CRP enrollment at its lowest point in decades, the Association urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to boost incentives and increase enrollment in this crucial program.”
Over the last 35 years, the Conservation Reserve Program has proven to be among our nation’s most valuable tools in providing landowners the assistance necessary to conserve marginal or ecologically sensitive acreage on their lands. Beyond benefits to soil and water quality, the program has helped to keep vulnerable species off the endangered species list and support hunter spending in rural communities across the country.
“Despite an increase in Conservation Reserve Program acreage in the 2018 Farm Bill, enrollment has plummeted and is now 3.1 million acres under the enrollment cap — with millions more acres set to expire,” says Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “The Conservation Reserve Program is essential for recovering wildlife species, improving water quality, strengthening soil health, and supporting farmers, ranchers, and foresters. We need bold action to drive enrollment up.”
Top photo by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Montana office.