Is CRP Slowly Killing Young and Beginning Farmers’ Dreams?

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.

Young farmers are trying to return to their rural communities, but accessing land can be very difficult.

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

Preserving farmland for future generations and for food security is important.

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.

-Sara

4 comments

  1. I have to agree with you. Being new to farming it is very hard to find affordable land to buy and/or to rent. Driving around we see many acres in CRP that we’d love to have/rent for pasture but like you said we cannot compete with CRP rates.

  2. I think the answer to when is twofold;

    When the US needs more farmers and cropland. Right now we could still feed the whole country with nearly half the farmland we have today, and then some.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/american-food-waste/491513/
    http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/22/40-of-u-s-food-wasted-report-says/

    Or it’s when wildlife areas are sufficiently protected in quantity and quality to preserve the wildlife that we seek to protect.

    We need more new and young farmers in the industry because an aging farming population is a problem. But we also have no need for more land to be under production. And old farmers aren’t exactly cheerfully handing their land off to new, younger farmers. So it’s a difficult balance to strike, and preserving farmland isn’t currently a required part of the equation.

    To support the “ideal” of capitalism, we’ll protect farmland when the market requires it. And with food prices so low right now, the market really doesn’t require it.

    1. I have to fervently disagree with you.
      We aren’t just growing food for the United States. Agriculture is one of the only industries that has a positive trade balance. We are growing food for export for plenty of other countries. If you are only looking at “food” as vegetables and fruits which so many do in the argument of we only have to feed the U.S., then your argument is invalid in the larger picture of how the agriculture industry works on a global scale. We also don’t just use agricultural land to grow food. It is grown for fuel, fiber, and a million other products that agriculture produces from insulin to toothpaste to paint.
      And we actually don’t grow enough. Do you remember the droughts from a few years ago where we didn’t have enough hay or pasture to feed cattle which turns into beef on our plates and we had to truck in hay from all over including Canada and Mexico to feed them? We didn’t grow enough here.
      Also, there are many states that are starting to realize the need to preserve agricultural land. Michigan, for example, is one such state and has their program – here https://www.michigan.gov/mdard/0,4610,7-125-1599_2558—,00.html
      New Jersey is another one http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/sadc/farmpreserve/index.html
      Pennsylvania is another one http://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/farmland/Pages/default.aspx
      You also are missing the bigger picture of ensuring the future of a food supply with farmland preservation as well. If farmland continues to be removed, the chances of having a continued and protected food supply dwindles.
      We are actually losing farmland at a rate of 1 acre per minute to urban development so this is a larger issue than many even realize on top of the misadministration of the CRP program. https://www.farmland.org/our-work/areas-of-focus/farmland
      Thank you for your opinion but agriculture is not just the United States, but rather global for us in terms of food production with exports and is so much more than just food.

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