WASHINGTON, D.C. - Saying the time to protect farmers who grow winter-planted crops is running out, Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Committe on Agriculture, today announced that the committee would consider a one-year correction of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to alleviate uncertainty resulting from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) tardiness in issuing a final rule and commencing the program's sign up.
The Committee on Agriculture will hold a business meeting to consider the CRP bill on Thursday, April 17, at 1:00 p.m.
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 rental payments for the land and cost-share assistance for establishing those practices. Of 32.9 million acres enrolled nationwide, some 22 million acres are expiring September 30.
"USDA got off on the wrong foot by taking so long to issue this rule, and they haven't quite recovered yet. Farmers need leeway to make planting decisions. Folks who grow winter crops needed to know weeks ago if they will be enrolled in CRP, and USDA is still nowhere near ready to make that call. We can't wait any more for them," Smith said.
"The challenge to producers is enormous. The present cover crop of grass is using up the ground moisture that will be needed for a grain crop this fall. And producers with major portions of their farms in CRP will not have the time needed to secure seed, fertilizers, pesticides, and financing to put in a fall crop. If the Administration can't announce until September who gets a CRP contract, these producers will lose the opportunity to plant a crop of wheat, barley, or oats," Smith said.
"We are not seeking an extension of existing CRP contracts. What we are seeking is a technical correction that will allow farmers to know now that they can be in the CRP for the coming crop year. If the Secretary awards them a new ten-year contract, then they would be taken care of. If not, then they would be out of the program after the coming year and their CRP acres would return to the pool to be awarded to someone else," Smith said.
"This is simply a one-year contract at the new bid prices and new eligibility requirements of the Secretary's new regulation. If we can fix the problem this year, we would expect the Secretary to announce any future bid awards in a timely manner that would prevent a recurrence of this problem," Smith said.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district, which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon, is heavily dependent on agriculture.