U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today unveiled multiple proposals that would add flexibility to Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) management and create new management options for other easement programs. In March, Thune announced that he would introduce multiple and incremental farm bill proposals throughout 2017, well in advance of the current farm bill’s September 2018 expiration. Thune, who has written three farm bills during his time in Congress, believes these current changes represent a common-sense approach that would greatly improve how easement programs are managed.
Thune’s proposals include, among others, increasing the CRP acreage cap by 25 percent to 30 million acres, creating a new concept for establishing CRP target acreage enrollment for each state by using a 10-year average enrollment, allowing greater flexibility for grazing and haying on CRP-enrolled land, and setting new, more-flexible rules that would improve all other existing and new farm bill easement programs.
“These common-sense management changes are much-needed, and they would go a long way in improving several farm bill conservation programs,” said Thune. “CRP is a popular program in South Dakota, but due to expiring contracts, the state is expected to lose 57 percent of its existing CRP acres over the years covered by the 2018 farm bill. After receiving feedback from stakeholders throughout South Dakota, it was clear that we needed to make some changes. I look forward to continuing the conversation on these and other proposals as debate on the next farm bill continues to get underway.”
Highlights of Thune’s proposals:
Adjustment to CRP Acreage Cap:
- Using available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the nationwide 10-year CRP enrollment average (2007-2016) is 29,740,113 acres.
- Rounding this number to 30 million acres would establish a reasonable and defensible CRP acreage cap for the duration of the next farm bill.
- This 10-year average represents periods of both high and low commodity prices and various diverse weather patterns.
- This adjustment would make 6 million more acres available to farmers who want to enroll in CRP during the term of the next farm bill.
CRP State Target Acreage Enrollment:
- A state’s target CRP acreage for the next farm bill would be determined by dividing the 10-year CRP enrollment average of all CRP-enrolled acres in a state by the 10-year national CRP acreage enrollment (carried out 8 decimal places), times the CRP enrollment cap for the next farm bill (30 million acres).
- For example, the 10-year average in South Dakota is 1,130,238.3 acres. If the state average is divided by the national 10-year enrollment average (29,740,113 acres) and then multiplied by the proposed 2018 farm bill CRP acreage cap (30 million acres), the new target for South Dakota would be 1,140,115 acres.
Grazing and Haying on CRP-Enrolled Land:
- Grazing would be allowed on CRP acreage during the grazing period and at 25 percent of the stocking rate that is established by the county FSA committee for Livestock Forage Program purposes. There would be no restriction for grazing during the primary nesting period. The CRP rental rate for acres grazed according to this provision shall be reduced by 25 percent.
- Vegetative cover could be mechanically harvested every three years on land enrolled in CRP under all practices, with no more than one-third harvested each year and a 25 percent reduction in CRP rental payments for each acre mechanically harvested. There shall be no restriction, except for harvest for seed, on the use of the vegetative cover mechanically harvested.
Thune’s bill also includes the following conservation program improvements: related wellhead protection, removal of base acres on certain CRP contracts, Transition Incentives Program, and other easement program changes:
- Removes payment limitation for rural water systems that use CRP land for wellhead protection areas.
- Removes base acres and eliminates contract extensions on land enrolled in CRP that is planted to trees under a CRP contract.
- Expands opportunities for beginning, young, and socially disadvantaged farmers to enroll in the CRP Transition Incentives Program.
- Removes USDA’s current “hands off” policy for most easement programs so they can be more effectively managed and enhanced for water management, general maintenance, habitat management, and other approved purposes.
Click here for additional details on these and other proposals included in Thune’s latest rollout.