EDF Praises Agency for Not Releasing Conservation Acres

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer's decision on July 29 against allowing the penalty-free early release of millions of acres of the land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will preserve the nation's most successful conservation program, according to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Some members of Congress and producer groups had lobbied the administration to release up to 24 million acres from CRP so the land could be put back into crop production. Currently, there are almost 35 million acres of land enrolled in CRP, but contracts for more than nine million acres of CRP land are due to expire over the next three years.

"Secretary Schafer should be commended for resisting calls to gut the nation's oldest and most successful farm conservation program," said Sara Hopper, EDF director of agricultural policy and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Putting millions of CRP acres back into crop production would have resulted in the loss of billions of dollars in taxpayer investments in conservation and caused untold environmental damage, while providing little, if any, relief from high commodity prices."

CRP is a federal program designed to reward farmers who take fragile land out of production for 10 to 15 years and instead plant grasses or trees or restore wetlands. Up until now, CRP enrollees who terminated their contracts prior to the end of their 10- to 15-year terms had to reimburse – with interest – the federal government for the rental and cost-share payments they had received, plus pay a 25 percent penalty. Some members of Congress and producer groups had proposed that the USDA waive all these costs for program participants.

Lands are enrolled in CRP precisely because they are environmentally sensitive, highly erodible, and marginally productive cropland.

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