U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase acreage allocations for SAFE, a continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative, to the maximum extent possible in South Dakota and other states with SAFE allocations at or near 100 percent enrolled. Boosting SAFE acres will help ensure the CRP does not fall substantially below the 2014 farm bill’s allowable acreage caps.
USDA developed the South Dakota Pheasants Safe initiative to provide habitat for species of economic significance, like the ring-necked pheasant in South Dakota, which provides more than $220 million annually to the state’s economy. SAFE also provides farmers with an alternative to placing expensive inputs and growing crops on marginal lands.
“One of the most effective approaches to encourage additional CRP enrollment, in addition to a general CRP signup I requested and you announced would be held beginning December 1, would be for USDA to immediately increase SAFE allocations,” Thune wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “SAFE has been a popular and effective continuous signup CRP initiative in South Dakota as well as other states. I strongly encourage you to consider increasing SAFE allocations to the maximum extent possible in all states in which SAFE initiatives are at or near 100 percent enrolled.”
Full text of the letter can be found below:
Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
During the 30 years since authorization in the 1985 Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has evolved into a proven effective multi-purpose management tool for landowners, farm operators, and conservationists. CRP enrollment has been dropping, and without timely proactive action from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the 2014 Farm Bill’s CRP enrollment acreage goals Congress intended for 2015 and future years will not be met.
Even though the 2014 Farm Bill lowered the CRP acreage cap to 26 million acres in 2015 and 25 million acres in 2016, with a current enrollment of 24.3 million acres, and with 1.9 million acres enrolled in CRP contracts that expire on September 30, I am very concerned that CRP enrollment will fall far below the allowable acreage cap.
One of the most effective approaches to encourage additional CRP enrollment, in addition to a general CRP signup I requested and you announced would be held beginning December 1, would be for USDA to immediately increase State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) allocations. SAFE has been a popular and effective continuous signup CRP initiative in South Dakota as well as other states. I strongly encourage you to consider increasing SAFE allocations to the maximum extent possible in all states in which SAFE initiatives are at or near 100 percent enrolled.
Pheasant hunting and related activities annually contribute more than $220 million to South Dakota’s economy and the decline of acres enrolled in CRP the past few years in the state has had a direct negative impact on our state’s pheasant population.
The South Dakota Pheasants SAFE initiative has resulted in increased CRP enrollment in the state; however, often the state’s SAFE allocation is oversubscribed.
The 2015 wheat harvest will begin shortly in South Dakota. With input costs increasing and market prices dramatically lower than in previous years, I would like to make sure that at this time after harvest when farmers and landowners explore more viable economic alternatives to producing crops on marginal land that adequate CRP SAFE acre availability will ensure that SAFE is an available option.
Please consider my request to take expeditious action to increase CRP SAFE allocations in South Dakota and all other states that need higher allocations.