Decision to curtail early releases of CRP in 2007 praised by conservationists

BISMARCK, ND April 4, 2007 - Ducks Unlimited (DU) reacted positively to news of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns’ decision to let landowners determine the use of their lands based on market demands rather than eliminating investments made with taxpayer funds under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres.
“On behalf of millions of sportsmen and women conservationists across the country, Ducks Unlimited applauds the USDA’s responsiveness to their concerns,” said Bart James, a DU governmental affairs representative specializing in agricultural conservation matters.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicated it likely would not charge a penalty for early contract releases to allow the conversion of CRP acres to corn to meet national demands for ethanol. USDA rethought that decision in light of a national report that farmers would use acres currently in production to increase corn plantings substantially.
In recent weeks, James and other DU staff met exclusively with the secretary and several top deputies and separately with staff at the White House to express DU’s concerns over several challenges CRP faces.
According to the Director of DU's Great Plains Regional Office, Jeff Nelson, one of DU’s strongest concerns about CRP is the possibility of early contract releases, especially without penalty.

“Allowing early releases would send the wrong message to the American public about the conservation value of lands enrolled in the program," Nelson said. "We thank the secretary and the White House for listening to the concerns of our members, and of sportsmen and women in general, by recognizing the importance of soil, water and wildlife conservation delivered through CRP.”
Late last week, the National Agricultural Statistics Service released its 2007 Prospective Planting report indicating producers will likely plant 90.5 million acres of corn this spring, a 15 percent increase from last year. While this data is only preliminary, it appears sufficient corn acreage will be planted to meet the demand for 2007.
Nelson says the secretary’s decision is an important step in maintaining CRP and signals the importance of the program to farmers and the American public.
“However, as the corn ethanol industry continues its rapid growth, we expect to face the same questions over the next several years,” he said. “We urge the secretary to carefully consider any decisions that may lead to the loss of habitat provided by CRP.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a minimum of 1.8 million acres of CRP will expire in 2007. Although contracts were extended through the recent reenrollment and extension options, 4.6 million acres are scheduled to expire by 2010.
“While we hope the return of these acres to production agriculture will alleviate the need to release additional acres of CRP for ethanol production, we also urge the secretary to update rental rates being offered and to provide ample opportunity for additional voluntary sign-ups into the program,” Nelson said.

Becky Jones Mahlum
Manager of Communications
Ducks Unlimited
Great Plains Regional Office
2525 River Road, Bismarck, ND 58503

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization. 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.