WASHINGTON – Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa this week sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for information on the administration of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In their letter, they ask if a competitive analysis is conducted before enrolling acres in CRP and whether there is an emphasis on signing up entire farms versus just the marginal acres of a farm.
Grassley and Ernst cited concerns raised by farmers in recent months about entire farms, composed of productive farmland being enrolled in CRP at rental rates many farmers cannot compete with. As landowners decide to enroll more acres in CRP, farmers have lost opportunities to farm some highly productive land. This has hit some young and beginning farmers especially hard.
Grassley and Ernst wrote, “CRP is an important program that offers land owners alternative ways to derive value from their land while providing environmental benefits to the surrounding area. However, we must ensure the program is properly administered and stays true to its original intent while using taxpayer dollars in the most effective manner possible.”
Below is the text of the letter.
September 15, 2016
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
Over the last several months, we have heard from a number of farmers concerning the way the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is being administered. Farmers have raised concerns about entire farms, composed of highly productive farmland, being enrolled in CRP at rental rates they cannot compete with.
While we understand the three-year average formula that explains the rental rates adjusting slower than the market, we have not been able to explain why so many high quality farms have been enrolled as opposed to more marginal lands.
Some young and beginning farmers have lost land as their landlords have decided to enroll their farms in CRP instead of renting it to be farmed. With the competitive nature of farming today, you can imagine how young farmers feel losing productive farmland to CRP.
Therefore, we respectfully ask you to respond to the following questions:
1. Does the Department of Agriculture ever enroll acres in the CRP program without conducting a competitive analysis based on the Highly Erodible Land (HEL) index?
2. Does the CRP program put an emphasis on signing up entire farms versus signing up only the marginal acres of a farm?
CRP is an important program that offers land owners alternative ways to derive value from their land while providing environmental benefits to the surrounding area. However, we must ensure the program is properly administered and stays true to its original intent while using taxpayer dollars in the most effective manner possible. We look forward to working with you to make certain CRP strikes the right balance for all stakeholders in rural America.