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Thune-Klobuchar Proposal Would Strengthen and Improve Conservation Reserve Program

Senators’ bipartisan bill would improve grazing and wildlife habitat potential of conservation program

March 22, 2022

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today introduced the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Improvement Act. This legislation would bolster CRP by improving access to grazing, providing more enrollment options to producers, and addressing CRP implementation issues following the 2018 farm bill. 

“As a longtime supporter of CRP, this common-sense legislation would help improve the multiple-use benefits of this important conservation program, including wildlife habitat and livestock forage potential,” said Thune. “After receiving valuable feedback from South Dakotans, it is clear that we need to make changes to ensure that CRP continues to be an effective option for producers and landowners. I look forward to making progress on these important issues and proposals as we begin working on the next farm bill.”  

“The Conservation Reserve Program helps equip our farmers with the tools to conserve and improve soil, water quality, and wildlife habitat,” said Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation makes commonsense improvements to CRP that will strengthen conservation practices and landowner enrollment in this vital program.”

“CRP has successfully met many of its objectives since its inception, but leaving grasslands set idle is not the healthiest way to manage them,” said Eric Jennings, president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association. “Our native species, that the CRP acres are seeded to, evolved over the past hundreds of years with animals such as cattle grazing and utilizing them. It is important for the health of the grass species and the soil beneath them to continue to have animals grazing them to stimulate growth and depositing nutrients back into the soil with their manure. Along with the benefits cattle provide to the grass and soil, having the water and fence infrastructure in place would provide a huge benefit to cattle producers during times of drought. In the past year, we have seen thousands of cattle leave our state because of a lack of forage. Having the infrastructure in place would allow producers to utilize the CRP acres for drought mitigation instead of having to sell their cows. We applaud Senators Thune and Klobuchar’s efforts to provide cost share dollars to build the infrastructure necessary to put cattle back on these lands.”

“As far as private lands conservation programs go, few are more critical to conserving waterfowl habitat than CRP,”said Julia Peebles, manager of agriculture and sustainability for Ducks Unlimited. “We appreciate Senators Thune and Klobuchar for their leadership and aspiration to enhance an already successful program by expanding flexibility for ranchers to utilize grazing activities while conserving wildlife habitat on CRP. Reasonable provisions like this incentivize greater participation in an important conservation program while helping landowners get the most out of their land.”

“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever supports these proposed changes as they will provide more flexibility for farmers, ranchers, and landowners in implementing conservation practices across the country,” said Jim Inglis, director of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “CRP is an important program that provides tremendous benefits for pheasants, quail, and many other species of wildlife, and we thank Senators Thune and Klobuchar for their efforts to ensure CRP continues to work for producers, wildlife, and rural communities.”

The CRP Improvement Act would:

  • Make CRP grazing a more attractive option by providing cost-share for the establishment of grazing infrastructure – including fencing and water distribution – on all CRP practices and contracts if grazing is included in the approved conservation plan;
  • Increase the CRP annual payment limitation from $50,000, which was established in 1985, to $125,000 to account for inflationary and rising land value pressures and provide landowners with more CRP enrollment options to ensure resources are appropriately conserved;
  • Reinstate mid-contract management cost-share payments for activities that are not related to haying or grazing; and
  • Permanently establish the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement practice under Continuous CRP.

Thune plans to introduce multiple farm bill proposals in advance of the current farm bill’s September 2023 expiration. Thune, who has written four farm bills during his time in Congress, believes these common-sense changes would greatly improve the effectiveness of CRP.