Agriculture organizations call for Conservation Reserve Program amendments

US needs more land to keep up with global demand, say supporters

Tight supplies of grains and oilseeds make it imperative that farmers be allowed to remove land from the Conservation Reserve Program that can be cropped in an environmentally sustainable way, according to seventy-two national and state agribusiness, meat, livestock and poultry organizations.

In a letter to Congress, the organizations said that providing flexibility to CRP rules is essential if the U.S. is to keep up with the global market. Currently, under the CRP, landowners enter into binding contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to idle land for 10 to 15 years. Penalties — including forfeiting all rental and cost-share payments received for the entire life of the CRP contract, plus interest and liquidated damages — currently apply to CRP contract holders who wish to end their contracts prior to expiration. The CRP currently represents, in acreage terms, America’s fourth largest crop, comprising approximately 31 million acres (roughly 15% of available U.S. farmland).

Other factors supporting the need for additional U.S. planted acreage included:

  • The current low stocks situation will require record corn crops on a consistent basis in 2011 and beyond.  
  • Expansion could help offset yield variability resulting from weather anomalies, particularly given tightening stocks-to-use ratios.  
  • World demand for all grains and oilseeds has increased 30% over the last decade, by 90 million metric tons, and shows no sign of abating. 
  • Several hundred million bushels of corn could potentially be produced in an environmentally sustainable way on land currently enrolled in the CRP.  
  • The use of grain for biofuels has negated the rationale used previously that land-idling programs, like the CRP, were needed as a way to control stocks.