Earlier this week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that he would increase conservation funding by $50 per-acre from its current rates of $100 per-acre, increasing the incentive for farmers to protect environmentally sensitive land.
Conservation programs have been hit hard by the recession and austerity measures in Congress. The recent congressional budget battles have trimmed billions of dollars from the agricultural sector, with many of the losses coming from conservation programs. In addition, the proposed elimination of direct farm payments threatens to undo much of the work of the conservation movement. Most direct payment programs are tied to conservation programs, requiring active conservation measures to qualify for funding. Eliminating direct payment programs could undo many of the gains the conservation movement has made in the past several decades.
In addition to federal budget reductions, the conservation program is facing a major hurdle this year. With corn and commodity prices through the roof, many farmers are declining to renew conservation contracts, hoping instead to plant long dormant fields to maximize profits.
Vilsack hopes that the increased funding will encourage more farmers to continue participating in the Conservation Reserve Program. In a statement outside the Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, Vilsack said, “With high crop prices, this approach to target our most sensitive lands is essential if we want to maintain the substantial benefits of CRP while ensuring that productive farmlands continue to produce the food and fiber Americans and the world needs,”
Vilsack’s goal is to add at least 1 million acres to the Conservation Reserve Program in addition to the 29 million already set aside.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer