Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, held a public hearing to examine the benefits of promoting soil health in agriculture and rural America.
Before Considering CRP Expansion, Barrett Questions Current Program Administration
Washington, D.C. — Today the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit, led by Chairman Bill Barrett (R-NE), reviewed the USDA's administration of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and considered legislation (H.R. 408) to increase acreage under the program.
"For all its popularity within the conservation community and among farmers and ranchers, it has not been administered without controversy," Barrett said. "Retiring land from annual crop production is hard on many rural economies. Although this balancing of conservation and production restrictions has worked fairly well in most areas of the country, it may be time Congress takes a new look at our policy on long-term land retirements."
H.R. 408, which was introduced by Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), would expand the current acreage limitation under CRP to 45 million acres. Today, however, USDA allows more than 5 million authorized acres to remain unenrolled.
"Before we start talking about expanding CRP, we have to consider whether the program is administered properly in its current form," Barrett said. "I really don't understand why the Administration has suggested the need to statutorily increase acreage while the USDA still has millions of acres on its shelf."
Under CRP, which was reauthorized in the 1996 Farm Bill, landowners enter into contracts with the USDA to place highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive cropland in long-term conservation practices for 10-15 years. In exchange, landowners receive annual rent payments for the land and cost-share assistance for establishing those practices. CRP acreage peaked at 36.4 million acres in 1996 at an annual cost of around $1.9 billion. Current enrollment is 31.3 million.
Barrett represents Nebraska's Third Congressional District — the largest corn-producing district in the country — in the U.S. House of Representatives.