ASA Supports Maintaining Acres in CRP For Now

Jul 27, 2022

By Ariel Wiegard, ASA Director of Government Affairs

Global food security is facing numerous challenges, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to poor weather conditions in the world’s breadbaskets to ongoing supply chain challenges from COVID-19. You might not think that the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has a role in that conversation, but that’s just what we’re talking about as the threat of an international food crisis hangs heavily over our heads like a summer storm cloud.

Currently, 22 million acres are enrolled in CRP, the USDA program that pays landowners to voluntarily remove land from agricultural production for 10-15 years. CRP was created in the 1985 Farm Bill to reduce soil loss on highly erodible cropland and curb production of surplus commodities, as well as to protect the country’s long-term ability to produce food and fiber. These days, CRP is used mostly to improve soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat, and the program has also often served as a “reserve” for emergency haying and grazing when livestock producers face drought and grassland fires.

Many in Washington, D.C., have suggested recently that we tap the reserve, limit new CRP enrollment, and open those 22 million acres to production to help stabilize food prices and meet worldwide demand for grains.

But you won’t hear ASA asking to open CRP to production right now. Here are four reasons why:

  1. We support farmers having as many options as possible. Farmers and landowners willingly offer to enroll their land in CRP for a multitude of reasons. Asking USDA to limit land that can be offered takes the choice out of farmers’ hands and doesn’t account for the many decision points already available.
  • Producers who made an offer under the 2022 CRP general sign-up won’t see their contracts go into effect until Oct. 1; they can still decide whether to participate or to plant those acres in 2023. USDA also anticipates farmers will return millions of acres to production when contracts expire Sept. 30 in response to high commodity prices; this year, USDA is giving these growers the option to begin preparing those acres for fall planting before their contracts end. Meanwhile farmers who have contracts past 2022 may exit the program early if they repay the funds they’ve received, which protects the American taxpayer’s investment.
  1. The market has always guided CRP enrollment. The best acres for soybean production are likely already being farmed, whereas most land in CRP would be considered marginal. And historic data shows even prime land coming out of CRP is not immediately productive; it takes several years of intensive management to grow a strong crop. With today’s high cost of inputs like fuel, fertilizer and pesticides, the return-on-investment of farming CRP ground may put operations in the red. No one is forcing anyone to put or keep land in CRP, but that might be the best economic decision for some farms.
  1. The environmental importance of CRP can’t be understated. Lands enrolled in CRP decrease erosion, improve water quality, build soil organic matter, provide wildlife habitat, increase carbon sequestration and storage and protect farms against drought, flooding, wildfires and other natural disasters. Unnecessarily returning those acres to production could do more harm than good for farms and society.
  1. Congress will write a farm bill next year. That is the time to tackle changes to CRP and other farm bill programs. In the coming months, we will learn more about worldwide food shortages and whether limiting CRP enrollment is truly warranted and worthwhile. If so, we will factor that information into our 2023 Farm Bill advocacy to ensure America’s soybean farmers have all the necessary tools—including farm safety net, conservation, market access programs and more—to help them feed the world, sustainably.