WASHINGTON, D.C. - By signing up only 16 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Clinton Administration is failing to serve American farmers or the highly erodible and other enivronmentally sensitive lands CRP is designed to protect, Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, said today.
Smith, who led congressional efforts to alleviate uncertainty for producers of fall-planted crops, authoring and passing a bill (H.R. 1342) to provide one year bridge contracts for farmers, said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman's decision to enroll only 16 million acres in CRP's fifteenth sign up breaks faith with American farmers and the environment.
"I'm absolutely shocked. With 22 million acres coming out of the CRP, 22 million ought to be going back in. Signing up only 16 million acres breaks faith with America's farmers and the sensitive lands they want to protect. Though the law allows a total of up to 36.4 million acres in the CRP, the Administration wants to enroll only 27 million. That's 9 million acres of environmentally sensitive land that could and should be protected, but it won't," Smith.
"There were a number of very painful sacrifices that had to be made in the course of the farm bill in order to preserve CRP. To blow it off like the Administration has really questions their commitment to the goals of conservation and a healthy farm economy. As many as 100,000 applications were rejected, all of them eligible for the program. I can only assume that they have other motives," Smith said.
"This is a completely inadequate effort on the Administration's part. To laud the environmental benefits of a program they refuse to use would be laughable, were it not so serious a dereliction," Smith said.
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 currently enrolled nationwide, some 22 million acres are expiring September 30.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives.