Conservation Questioned in Rural Regions

Many rural farmers have questioned the utility of the Conservation Reserve Program. The program, begun in the 1980s and initially imagined in the wake of the Dust Bowl, was created to improve soil quality, reduce erosion, improve water quality, and inject money into struggling rural areas. Conservationists, environmentalists, and many farmers claim that conservation efforts have been a huge success, improving soil and water conditions, reducing pollution, and helping struggling wildlife species.

However, the CRP’s future is currently unclear. In the wake of Congress’ deficit concerns, conservation programs have seen their budgets shrink. The latest Farm Bill discussion, which failed along with the rest of the super committee, would have significantly reduced conservation budgets. While a new Farm Bill will be drafted in upcoming months, it is almost certain that conservation programs will not see a budget increase.

In addition to fiscal concerns, many local farmers are questioning their commitment to the CRP. With commodity prices skyrocketing, many farmers could make more money farming their CRP land rather than leaving it fallow.

Several solutions have been floated to deal with farmers’ reluctance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that increasing the payout of CRP signups would help lure more farmers into the program, although, given the state of fiscal concerns in Washington, this increase seems unlikely.

Some farmers, on the other hand, have suggested a more targeted solution. Rather than leaving large tracts of land fallow for set contracts, they have suggested permanently protecting smaller buffer strips, enabling farmers to take advantage of commodity prices, while also protecting waterways and reducing soil erosion.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer