Conservation Contracts to Expire Soon

Across the Midwest, Conservation Reserve Program contracts are set to expire. The CRP was originally begun in the 1950s in order to combat erosion and improve water and soil quality by removing endangered land from agricultural production. Since then, the program has been a mainstay of the conservation movement.

The influence of the CRP, however, may be tested in the next year. In 2012, hundreds of thousands of acres of CRP land across the Upper Midwest may be planted again. Current CRP contracts are set to expire, and farmers are questioning the utility of keeping their land in reserve.

Part of the problem stems from the steady defunding of conservation programs. While the CRP still receives federal money, its conservation subsides have gradually shrunk, offering farmers less and less to leave their land fallow.

In addition, the increasing price of corn, largely due to the ethanol boom occurring across the Midwest, has tempted many farmers to plant new crops when their CRP contracts expire.

The CRP has greatly improved the quality of the environment in the Midwest and across the Mississippi River. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, wildlife, particularly migratory waterfowl like ducks, along the Upper Midwest has increased in number.

In addition, nationally, CRP lands have retained over 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen and 400 million pounds of phosphorus, much of which would have leeched into the Mississippi River, creating and expanding dead zones across the Gulf of Mexico.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer