USDA Asks for Conservation Participation

The US Department of Agriculture is asking farmers to enroll and reenroll some of their land in the Conservation Reserve Program, whose signup period begins on May 20.

The Conservation Reserve Program has existed in some capacity since the 1950s. In the wake of the Dust Bowl, farmers and politicians saw the value in leaving large tracts of land, particularly in ecologically vulnerable areas, dormant to prevent erosion, protect water resources and improve water quality, as well as defend threatened wildlife habitats.

Farmers who sign up parts of their land with the Conservation Reserve Program are severely restricted in their ability to farm said land. In exchange for essentially surrendering valuable farmland, farmers receive payments from the federal government (with the amounts paid and the total funding for the CRP laid out in the farm bill).

In promoting the program, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of conservation in last year’s drought. Because of the amount of land set aside, farmers were able to avoid serious erosion problems last year. In addition, reserved land was able to be used for emergency grazing for ranchers whose herds were hit hard by the lack of water and the cost of feed.

The need to continue conservation programs, Vilsack argued, was a major reason that Congress needed to take swift action in passing a new five-year farm bill, laying out the total amount of money for environmental protection programs.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer