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USDA expands CRP acreage

posted on March 9, 2012

Natural gas prices fell to a 10-year low this week as spring-like weather blanketed much of the country.  Crude Oil, on the other hand, has risen nearly 15 percent over the past four months on continued tension over Iran's nuclear program. 

Natural gas supplies have grown rapidly in recent years as new -- and by some accounts, controversial -- drilling techniques unlock reserves previously thought to be inaccessible. 

The impact of increased production, diminishing consumption and even Mother Nature also were evident this week in agricultural markets, as the government released its latest estimates on global supply and demand.   

USDA expands CRP acreage

Speaking at an Interior Department event last week billed as the White House Conference on Conservation, President Obama championed clean air standards set in December, saying they would create jobs.

President Obama: The bottom line is this: There will always be people in this country who say we’ve got to choose between clean air and clean water and a growing economy, between doing right by our environment and putting people back to work. And I’m here to tell you that is a false choice. (Applause.) That is a false choice. (Applause.) With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and protect our environment for ourselves and our children.

Addressing a diverse group of stakeholders that included everyone from hunters and fishermen -- to farmers and ranchers -- to business owners and tribal leaders, the President outlined his vision of conservation.

Obama also highlighted a new commitment between the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to preserve an additional one million acres of grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat by including the environmentally sensitive acreage in the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program.

President Obama: “We’re not just preserving our land and water for the next generation; we’re also making more land available for hunting and fishing. And we’re bolstering an outdoor economy that supports more than 9 million jobs and brings in more than a trillion dollars a year.”

The Agriculture Department's Conservation Reserve Program, commonly known as CRP, pays farmers to idle millions of acres of environmentally sensitive and/or erodible land. Currently about 30 million acres are enrolled in CRP, but contracts on more than 20 percent of the acreage expire in September.

With both corn and soybeans trading at historically high levels, there is growing concern that producers may put more environmentally sensitive land into production to increase profitability. Soybean prices, for example, surged nearly 10 percent in February to a five-month high of more than $13 per bushel.

Hoping to maintain at least 30 million acres in CRP, the Agriculture Department unveiled a new program last week offering financial incentives for farmers to enroll up to one million new acres of grasslands and wetlands into CRP.

The new program includes an additional 700,000 acres of grasslands, prized as crucial habitat for ducks and upland birds like pheasants and quail. 200,000 new acres will be idled for wetlands restoration, and 100,000 new acres are to be set aside for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture: “We're also going to increase the incentive payment on CRP to $150 per acre. So this million acre opportunity we think is a tremendous chance to continue focusing on the good work that CRP does, not only in terms of providing landowners, farmers and ranchers alternative income sources, but also focusing on the environmental benefits of CRP as well as the habitat benefit.

According to USDA, the CRP program prevents the erosion of 325 million tons of soil each year, and keeps more than 700 million pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous from entering the nation's rivers, lakes and streams.

Tags: acreage agriculture conservation CRP farmers news ranchers USDA water White House