Ducks Unlimited and Agriculture Secretary to Discuss CRP

USDA requests meeting with DU on key farm bill and waterfowl conservation programs

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2007 - Ducks Unlimited (DU) will meet with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner on Thursday, March 15 to discuss the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the farm bill. USDA requested the meeting.

CRP provides a secure income to farmers, ranchers and other landowners to protect soil and water and provide wildlife habitat by converting inferior cropland back into more natural habitat. Landowners sign 10- or 15-year contracts to protect this highly erodible land. One of the most successful wildlife habitat conservation programs ever, CRP has conserved more than 37 million acres since 1986.

DU wants to maintain at least 8 million acres of CRP land in the Prairie Pothole Region – the most important duck breeding area in the world. Annually, almost 2-1/2 million ducks are produced on this CRP land. That’s more ducks than are taken by hunters in the 17-state Atlantic Flyway and is about the same amount of ducks taken by Texas and Arkansas hunters combined in 2005. Some 79 percent of enrolled CRP acres are set to expire in the Prairie Pothole Region by 2010.

DU Executive Vice President Don Young along with other DU staff will meet with secretary Johanns and deputy secretary Conner.

“This is an important opportunity to maintain federal farm bill conservation programs vital to our wetlands and waterfowl conservation mission, and to the farmers and ranchers that depend on them as stable income sources,” Young said. “CRP lands also benefit farmers and ranchers by reducing the loss of valuable topsoil and protecting water quality. These lands are not fit for traditional row cropping and should remain in a natural cover. We like to say, ‘farm the best, conserve the rest.’ And CRP lands should be conserved.”

Bart James is DU’s governmental affairs representative who focuses on the farm bill.

“This visit is a special opportunity to present a widely held perspective to USDA,” James said. “CRP is already suffering from low payments to farmers that haven’t kept pace with increasing land values. It’s important to DU members in the Midwest, many of whom rely on CRP and other farm bill conservation programs on their land.”

DU became increasingly concerned that the future of CRP is in question after USDA recently recommended no new general CRP signups for the next two years, and that the agency is considering allowing early CRP contract terminations in 2008. DU contacted the White House in January outlining specific concerns and followed up with a letter to Secretary Johanns on March 5. In the last two weeks, its members also sent thousands of messages to Congress and the Administration urging the protection of CRP. 

DU is not alone in its desire to ensure that farmers, ranchers and other landowners continue to have options to put poor cropland into more appropriate uses. To date, thirteen state departments of natural resources have written letters to the USDA expressing their concern for CRP, too.

Also along for the meeting will be DU’s Director of Fundraising and Volunteer Relations Joe Breidenbach. His area covers North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Those states are part of the Prairie Pothole Region.

Contact: Rachel Dawson
(202) 347-1530

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.