Scott J. McLeod, Regional Biologist – Farm Bill Programs,
Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Great Plains Regional Office
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has been part of the North Dakota landscape for the past 20 years. Congress first authorized CRP under the Food Security Act of 1985 with a nationwide cap of 45 million acres. Currently, the nationwide cap is 39.2 million acres and there are 35.9 million acres enrolled. Approximately 8.0 million acres are located in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) and 3.3 million acres in N.D.
CRP has provided well-documented benefits to waterfowl and other wildlife throughout the PPR. CRP has increased waterfowl nest success and is annually responsible for an additional 2.1 million ducks in the fall flight. Likewise, pheasant harvest in N.D. has increased from 150,000 before CRP to 600,000 since CRP.
Although CRP has been a success, its future is uncertain. Nearly 51 percent of the acres in ND will expire in 2007 and 85 percent by 2010. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) has implemented a plan for contract re-enrollments and extensions on expiring acres. In ND, approximately 45 percent of the acres expiring in 2007 will be offered reenrollments (new, 10-15 year contracts) and the remainder will be offered short-term extensions (2-5 years). Initial indications are that acres expiring in ND from 2008-2010 will fare much worse. CRP is also set to expire in 2007 with no guarantee of being reauthorized in the 2007 Farm Bill.
Native grasslands in N.D. are also under increased threat. Annual loss rates of 2 percent have been documented in some areas of the Missouri Coteau. At this rate, half of the remaining native grassland in the PPR will be lost in 34 years. Loss of native grassland is a combined result of technological advances and unintended consequences of federal farm policy. The current Farm Bill provides substantial price support and risk protection to crop producers through loan-deficiency payments, disaster payments and crop insurance. Reduced economic risk, combined with genetically engineered crops and larger farm equipment, provides the incentive to break new ground.
Farm Bill conservation programs are vital to continental waterfowl populations because they have a landscape-level impact on habitat. Nationally, crafting farm policy that is friendly to waterfowl and producers alike is a high priority for DU. DU is and will remain front and center on this issue as deliberations on the 2007 Farm Bill continue. DU’s priorities for the Farm Bill are to:
· maintain the current acreage of CRP in the PPR
· create a “Sodsaver” provision that provides a disincentive for plowing native prairie
· maintain the Swampbuster provision that provides a disincentive for converting wetlands to cropland.
DU needs your support on these issues and encourages you to contact your Congressional representatives and urge their support of these critical conservation programs.