Ask any farmer about his land, and he would be able to describe every inch of it without skipping a beat – the high spots, the low spots, the wet spots, and the dry spots. He could walk you to the corner of his plot that each year, despite even the best growing conditions, never seems to meet his expectations. He knows his land like the back of his hand and wants to do everything within his control to maximize its production capability.
While most producers would prefer that each acre of land was equally profitable, sometimes the most effective strategy is taking some or all of it out of production altogether. Farmers who choose this option have a variety of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs available to them to help offset the cost of lost production and ensure the land is being managed as efficiently as possible.
My Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP), which I first rolled out in early 2017 and was later included in the 2018 farm bill, is a new USDA conservation pilot program that is expected to open soon in Prairie Pothole Region states, including South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Montana. My staff and I have been actively engaged in this process since the farm bill became law, and I’m eager to see the rubber finally meet the road.
SHIPP, which was inspired by feedback I received from South Dakota producers in 2016 and 2017, is a short-term alternative to the widely popular Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). While most D.C.-based acronyms are often considered a foreign language in the real world, everyone in farm country knows about CRP and its benefits. SHIPP, which I’m confident will become an equally recognizable tool, offers many of the same benefits as CRP but with far shorter contract commitment options (three, four, or five years).
Under this new program, farmers can enroll up to 15 percent of a farm’s least productive acres, as long as they were planted or considered planted to a commodity crop for three consecutive years prior to enrollment. In return, the enrollee would receive an annual rental payment. Once enrolled, the acreage must be planted to a perennial conserving use cover that can be hayed or grazed outside the designated primary nesting and brood-rearing season in the county in which the land is located. Importantly, SHIPP is a low-cost program because it encourages the removal of poor land from taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance premium subsidies and indemnities.
Farming is far more complicated than simply digging a hole, planting a seed, and watching it grow, as most folks who are out of touch with farm country might inaccurately assume. Farmers know what it takes, and so do the communities across America’s heartland that help support their mission to feed the world. In today’s sluggish agriculture economy, we need to keep our eye on the ball and do everything we can to help farm country, and I believe SHIPP will create some much-needed certainty in these highly uncertain times.