With less than a month left in his time as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has unveiled a bill that would expand the acreage of the Conservation Reserve Program to 50 million acres — more than double the amount currently enrolled.

“It’s a pretty short, straightforward bill. It requires a Secretary (of Agriculture) to have to sign up 50 million acres, giving them five years to do it. Under the old program, it allowed them to go up to that level. This would actually require it and it also recognizes the carbon sequestration. So, this would be a significant improvement as we go forward,” Peterson said.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality. Nearly 22 million acres were in the program as of September.

USDA to open CRP, CRP grasslands signup in early 2021

Peterson, who has served in Congress since 1991, lost his bid for reelection in the November election to Michelle Fischbach, a Republican who formerly served as lieutenant governor of Minnesota. Peterson has served as either the ranking member or the chair on the House Agriculture Committee since 2005.

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Peterson does not expect the bill to be passed before he is out of office, but he hopes it sends a message.

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“This is not going to pass in this Congress, but hopefully it is a marker that we can put out there and people can rally behind. In the next Congress, as people look for ways to engage agriculture in this issue, this is something that should be right at the forefront of what we look at to make that happen. I’ll be heading out the door here shortly, but I am putting down a marker as I go out the door to something I have been a champion of since I got to Congress,” Peterson said.

CRP offers help in combatting climate change and in providing carbon sequestration, he stressed.

“We still don't have the structure there to get what we need to have in CRP. We have done a good job of getting incentives in there for wildlife and other benefits of CRP, but what this bill does and one of the reasons I want to introduce this now is it recognizes the benefit of CRP to this whole issue of climate change. That is going to be something that's really on people’s agenda. This program is successful, is proven, and works. I think it would be the best solution for us who want to do something about climate change and that is CRP. There is no better way to store carbon than perennial native grasses,” Peterson said.

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Peterson’s efforts towards the CRP bill have been appreciated by many, including those in conservation.

“Chairman Peterson has been a champion for CRP and his unwavering support for this program is unmatched. The CRP bill today is a fitting move for his 30 years of public service that has been intertwined with America’s most successful conservation tool. Without his championing of CRP throughout the years, it is very likely there would be no CRP program today. This truly is the best tool for America’s farmers, ranchers, hunters and environmental problem solvers,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants and Quail Forever.