The Conservation Reserve Program or more commonly known as CRP has long been touted as a way to remove marginal farmland from production. This was land that maybe formerly was a wetland or just didn’t perform well because it would be a drowned out low spot in the field. The application involved showing that it would be a good field to return to or protect wetland habitat and highly erodible ground, at least for Minnesota. Minnesota’s focus has primarily been on wetland habitat for the last 20-30 years of CRP.
Typically these acreages would often range in the 1-5 acre range for what a farmer typically wanted to remove from production. After all, the entire field wasn’t necessarily marginal, but sections of it may have been.
After speaking with several area farmers, and experiencing it firsthand, farmers would often apply to have those smaller tracts removed from marginal production and put into CRP, and would find themselves denied. Reason? Not because it wouldn’t be a good candidate for the program, but FSA wanted more acreage. Often asking for tracts of 15-35 acres to be removed from production, or even an entire field.
CRP has a time frame on it. Once you put land in the program, it stays in there for 10 years. 10 years is a long time in a cyclical farm market, when many are choosing to place their land in CRP simply because crop prices are low and the CRP program is paying very high
CRP program payments are currently well above average county rates. In my county, average rates hover in the $225-$250 rate for farmland. CRP payments are in the upwards of $100 to $150 per acre more than what farmers are able to cash flow.
This is a problem.
This is a problem because it is encouraging people not from the area to purchase land, reach the 2 year farming rule, and place land into CRP before giving actual farmers that live or work in the area a chance to rent that land or purchase that land. Often we see people from outside of these rural communities, that may live in a metropolitan area, purchasing land, hiring someone to custom farm it for the required two years, and then putting it into the CRP program at rates that will pay them twice the amount of what they might get in rent or what they could be losing by farming it themselves. Hey, you can’t blame them I guess IF money is their only object.
In the meantime, young and beginning farmers who keep getting told they have tons of governmental options to rent land (one example – Minnesota passed legislation offering tax credits to those renting to young and beginning farmers last year) are literally fighting against one section of the government while supposedly getting help from the other to find land to farm. A young and/or beginning farmer can’t afford a $350/acre land rent, and I actually doubt most farmers who have been farming a long time could actually cash flow that right now with current crop prices. But somehow, the government can. The government can pay over $300/acre for CRP contracts for the next 10 years.
We are seeing entire fields get removed from production that will more than likely lose their previous farmable wetland designation when they come out in 10 years. We are seeing productive crop land removed from production and placed into the CRP program simply because landowner can get more for it through the program then they could by renting it to a local farmer. We are seeing entire fields go into CRP because they are overlooking smaller marginal tracts that may be a better fit for the program’s original intent. Beginning farmers are losing out on the ability to potentially cash flow some marginal land while looking for other ways to improve the soil through cover crops, variable rate seeding, or even smaller grains such as barley, oats, and wheat as part of their rotations or other specialty crops such as hops and grapes.
So why aren’t we paying young farmers $300 an acre in land rent to keep farming? To build a continued, sustained, farm operation in rural communities? To give them an opportunity? We can say we are speeding up access to funding from FSA and increasing the cap, but it is all a little too late when land rates for purchasing have continued to stay high despite low commodity prices.
I know, I know. CRP is all for the sake of wildlife habitat. But when do we finally say enough is enough and that a balance is there? When do we finally admit that maybe preserving farmland to feed people, to fuel our vehicles, and create a million other items is important too?
When do we start to put a preservation status on our agricultural land? When do we start to preserve the farming lifestyle that some choose
as their business and profession? When do we get to put out a big metal sign on a piece of farmland and say that this piece has been preserved as agricultural farmland for the entirety of its life, like we do for wildlife habitat?
Some of you will read this whole post and come away purely saying she’s against wildlife, but definitely not the case. We have a wetland area in the back of the property we own that is in CRP. We have 40 acres of woods that are part of a piece of land we farm that is just that way because we enjoy it. We hunt pheasant and deer. However, at the end of the day, there has to be some push back when we have beginning farmers that can barely get 50 acres to start and then have to compete with the government on top of it.