Vital Conservation Program at Risk

Conservation Reserve Program in Jeopardy under USDA Proposal The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is by all indications one of the most successful conservation programs in the country. Enacted under the Farm Bill 20 years ago, the program pays farmers to set aside land for protection of soil, water and wildlife. The program has enrolled some 36-million acres, more land than in the entire National Wildlife Refuge system in the lower 48 states and has been critical to maintaining wildlife populations on the landscape. But now the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed eliminating general enrollments in CRP for the next two years, at a time when over 4-million acres of CRP will be expiring. Further, Secretary Johanns has also announced that he is considering letting current CRP contract holders out of their agreements without penalty in order to grow more corn. While claiming to be promoting the expansion of biofuels, USDA is effectively forcing farmers to farm fragile and marginal lands, contributing little to biofuels production, while impacting wildlife populations and further impacting the soil, air and water quality of lands downstream. Through CRP, farmers and ranchers have helped protect the environment for future generations by restoring 2-million acres of wetlands and adjacent buffers, protecting 170 thousand miles of streams, sequestering 48 million tons of carbon dioxide, safeguarding water supplies for major cities including New York; Columbus, Ohio; and Raleigh, North Carolina; and supporting 2.2 million ducks per year in the Prairie Pothole region. CRP has been a highly effective program since its enactment 20 years ago. Eliminating enrollments would end what has been a win-win program for farmers, helping them to put marginal land to good use and providing a stable source of income that is not affected by drought or poor conditions. Allowing farmers to terminate their contracts early, without penalty, would undermine the tremendous investment made in putting these lands back into native vegetation and could have serious implications for soil, water and wildlife. Cutting CRP would be far too costly. In September of 2006, the results of a study by the Agriculture Policy Analysis Center (APAC) at the University of Tennessee estimated that if CRP contracts are eliminated as they expire, 37 percent, or more than 12.7 million acres, will return to crop production by 2015. APAC also estimated that reaching the 39.2 million acre enrollment cap by 2015 (authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill) would raise net farm income by $600-million. The Farm Bill is up for renewal in 2007. Last week, a coalition of 16 prominent outdoor and conservation groups including the National Wildlife Federation called for CRP to be expanded. Overall CRP acreage should expand to 45 million acres. Now is the time for members of Congress to stand up for this key conservation program. USDA must pull the plug on its enrollment proposal, halt its consideration of “early-outs” for current contract holders, and get back to the business of fighting for a robust conservation title in the farm bill. Three out of four farmers are turned down due to lack of funds when they try to enroll in Farm Bill conservation programs. Fully 74 percent of conservation applications are unfunded. Conservation must become a new priority commodity. We have to repeat the old adage: “Farm the best, protect the rest” – which is still good policy today. The National Wildlife Federation believes that it is not inconsistent to support both CRP and biofuels. In fact, to ensure a sustainable energy future, we will absolutely need both. We urge you to write about this important matter. The National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization protecting wildlife for our children’s future. www.nwf.org . # Contact: Julie Sibbing, 202 797-6832 sibbing@nwf.org Lisa Swann, 703 438-6083 swann@nwf.org