Ecosystem management is the essence of land stewardship

Training cattle to eat noxious weed; a Madison County pest management project.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is accepting 2 million acres into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) during the first of multiple sign-up periods in 2022. 

“Our conservation programs are voluntary, and at the end of the day, producers are making market-based decisions as the program was designed to allow and encourages,” Vilsack said. “We recognize the Conservation Reserve Program is an important tool in helping mitigate climate change and conserve natural resources, and this announcement is just the first opportunity for producers to take advantage of the program.”

USDA said in the announcement that 3.4 million acres are expiring this year, and producers submitted reenrollment offers for just over half of the expiring acres. USDA noted the offers for new land under general CRP were considerably lower than in 2021, with fewer than 400,000 acres being offered this year versus over 700,000 acres offered last year.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has written to the president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, saying he shares concerns about the Ukraine war and its impact on grain production and exports, but USDA sees only potentially “marginal” benefits from suggestions to open up the Conservation Reserve Program for planting crops this year.

Vilsack is encouraging producers to still sign up for the Grassland CRP working lands program, the continuous CRP for more targeted buffer practices, and partnership opportunities through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. 

Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), told Jerry Hagstrom, DTN political correspondent, he hopes the sign-ups for those programs will make it possible for FSA, which manages the CRP, to reach the maximum acreage enrollment of 27 million acres in 2023. 

Ducheneaux said, “I don't see CRP as land idling,” and he noted USDA allowed harvesting and foraging on CRP land last year and said it “literally kept cattle herds together” in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Ducheneaux noted the program is voluntary, and landowners can make an enrollment decision, but he added CRP “finds a better use for land that is marginal or submarginal” and creates biodiversity. 

USDA noted land enrolled in CRP plays a role in climate change mitigation efforts. In 2021, FSA introduced the Climate-Smart Practice Incentive, which provides an incentive payment based on the predominant vegetation type for the practices enrolled.

It started with a string of tweets from University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin stating the war in Ukraine “is going to be the biggest supply shock to global grain markets in my lifetime.” With that, Irwin said USDA should open up Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for cropping.

While the general sign-up is closed, producers and landowners can still apply for the continuous sign-up and Grassland sign-up by contacting their local USDA Service Center.  — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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