This change will create a pool of 2.5 million eligible acres with enrollment currently limited to the first 100,000 acres offered. The PPR of the Dakotas has been allotted 80,000 acres while the PPR of Montana, Minnesota, and Iowa will enroll the balance of 20,000 acres. The new practice is expected to produce 60,000 additional ducks annually. Although these new acres are a step in the right direction, they pale in comparison to the 8.1 million acres of CRP currently on the landscape across the PPR, a large proportion of which may disappear when existing contracts expire. What can keep this sea of CRP grassland from disappearing?
Testimonials from the heartland will help. “CRP has benefited my operation by providing a stable income off the more marginal land I have,” said Dennis Clark, a rancher and farmer from Woodworth, North Dakota. “During the drought years we’ve had, it saved my cow herd. It saved my neighbor’s cow herd. I would continue the CRP program. I would enroll more land in it next time, if it’s allowed.”
This sentiment toward CRP is pervasive throughout much of the country. But given the current federal budget, it will take more than good feelings to retain CRP in the next Farm Bill. That’s where a new study by the University of Tennessee (UT) may help save the day. A group of conservation and commodity organizations recently commissioned UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC) to examine the economic consequences of eliminating the Conservation Reserve Program. The results were staggering, even to those who have a longstanding appreciation of the economic benefits of CRP. According to the study, the full elimination of CRP would save the government more than $12 billion in CRP payments between 2007 and 2015. However, the additional crops that would be produced on former CRP acres would increase supply and thereby lower commodity prices, requiring an increase of $45 billion in payments to farmers. On balance, the APAC study concluded that U.S. taxpayers would end up saving $33 billion by retaining CRP.