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Published April 09, 2012, 11:10 AM

NGFA urges CRP reduction

WASHINGTON — The National Grain and Feed Association is urging the Senate Agriculture Committee to make dramatic changes to reduce the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, which is currently authorized to pay farmers to idle up to 32 million acres of farmland.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The National Grain and Feed Association is urging the Senate Agriculture Committee to make dramatic changes to reduce the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, which is currently authorized to pay farmers to idle up to 32 million acres of farmland.

NGFA, whose members make money selling inputs and moving and processing agricultural products, has viewed the CRP suspiciously since it was established in 1985, when the United States had an oversupply of grain, and environmental and wildlife habitat problems were apparent after widespread planting of acreage occurred during the export boom of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

During each farm bill debate, NGFA has argued that the CRP should be smaller in acreage and used to protect only the most fragile lands, and in a news release April 4, it intensified those arguments. Environmental and hunting and fishing groups, which have praised the CRP for restoring the landscape and recreating wildlife habitat, are likely to oppose at least some of NGFA’s proposals.

The NGFA said there is “compelling evidence” that millions of acres of productive farmland currently idled in the CRP are suitable for row crop production and are needed to meet growing demand for food, feed, biofuels and exports.

It cited a federal Natural Resources Inventory report published in 2009 by the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service — containing 2007 data, the most recent available — that indicated more than 7.1 million acres of “prime farmland” (land classes 1 and 2) were enrolled in the CRP at that time.

“This includes some land that does not even require the use of a conservation plan to be farmed,” the NGFA noted. “The idling of productive resources through land-idling conservation programs costs jobs, stymies growth, and in the case of land resources, has the potential to impact negatively the cost and availability of food and feed.”

Shift in production

NGFA also said that idling productive U.S. crop acres is contrary to environmental protection on a global basis because it encourages shifts in agricultural production to South America and other countries that do not have the same level of environmental protection, regulations and agronomic farming practices as exist in the United States.

It also said the CRP stymies the ability of young and tenant farmers to get started in production agriculture, which it called a “particularly acute concern” given the aging demographics of the nation’s agricultural producers.

“Rather than rent or sell, many landowners choose to reap CRP rental payments, creating another barrier for young and tenant farmers who are struggling to expand and build economic-sized operations,” the NGFA said.

Congress is already expected to reduce the size of the CRP to 25 million or 26 million acres, and NGFA did not say exactly how many acres should be in the program.

But NGFA said that when the Senate Agriculture Committee marks up the farm bill, it should include statutory language that would:

• Prohibit prime farmland (land classes 1 and 2) from future enrollments and re-enrollments.

• Eliminate the discretion for USDA to exceed the 25 percent limit on CRP enrollments in individual counties, and include within the 25 percent county limit at least a 5 percent allowance for acres enrolled in the wetlands reserve and continuous sign-up process.

• Mandate that USDA permit penalty-free early outs of land classes 1, 2 and 3 enrolled in CRP, provided that producers doing so are required to implement prudent conservation practices on such lands.

• Restrict whole-field and whole-farm enrollments by subjecting such land to a more stringent environmental benefits index (EBI) scoring threshold than partial-field enrollments.

• Guide USDA to freeze CRP rental rates for three to five years or implement a percentage-based limit on rental rates paid for CRP land compared with average county rental rates so young and beginning farmers are not forced to compete against the government for acres; and limit the number of CRP general sign-ups offered.

The NGFA’s membership includes country, terminal and export elevators; feed manufacturers; cash grain and feed merchants; end-users of grain and grain products, including processors, flour millers, and livestock and poultry integrators; commodity futures brokers and commission merchants; and allied industries.

The NGFA, which was established in 1896, also consists of 26 affiliated state and regional grain and feed associations, as well as two international affiliated associations.

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