Another program that targets protection of native grassland fared better than Sodsaver in the final bill. The Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), which had expired, was reauthorized. Under the new Farm Bill, 1.22 million additional acres can be enrolled. This has been a very popular program, reaching its five-year enrollment cap in just four years during the life of the 2002 Farm Bill. Since inception, GRP has protected 2 million acres across the nation through easements and rental agreements. However, only 192,000 of those acres have been enrolled in the PPR states. DU looks forward to working with the administration to increase allocation of GRP acres in the prairie pothole states.
Restored grasslands on cultivated landscapes can provide quality nesting habitat for waterfowl. The success of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has proved this point each year since it was first established in the 1985 Farm Bill. The safer nesting and brood-rearing habitats provided by CRP add about 2.2 million ducks to the fall flight each year.
CRP is also responsible for more than 13.5 million pheasants, 170,000 miles of protected streams, and millions of tons of topsoil that are maintained on restored grasslands enrolled in the program. Despite all the proven benefits of CRP, the new Farm Bill reduced the current authorized acreage of 39.2 million acres by more than 18 percent. This acreage reduction will likely result in smaller populations of waterfowl and other wildlife and will lead to increased topsoil erosion. It will also decrease the numbers of farmers and ranchers who can assist their land stewardship efforts through this program. Prices for corn, wheat, and other commodities have risen dramatically, increasing cropland rental rates, but CRP rental rates have been slow to adjust, discouraging re-enrollment by landowners who can get more money planting crops. DU biologists estimate that of the 7.4 million acres currently enrolled in the PPR only 4 million will remain by 2012 if the rental rates do not become more competitive.
While agricultural policy has been a dominant influence on the rural landscape for the past century, a new force is emerging—energy policy, in the form of mandates and incentives for renewable sources including solar power, wind energy, and ethanol for liquid fuel. To date, the ethanol industry has been dominated by corn and fostered by federal subsidies and existing technology. In the Energy Title of the 2008 Farm Bill, the tax credit for corn-based ethanol was reduced from $0.51 per gallon to $0.45 per gallon, while a $1 per gallon credit was established for cellulosic ethanol production. Because grasslands are viewed as a significant source of cellulosic ethanol feedstock, this shift in emphasis may encourage restoration of some marginal cropland to grass. Advancements in cellulosic ethanol technology coupled with new incentives have the potential to add significant grassland acreage to the PPR.