Over 714,000 Acres in Colorado CRP Land Contracts Set to Expire This September
Washington, DC - With the contracts for over 714,000 acres of Colorado land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) set to expire this September, Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, urged United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to make clear the options available to Colorado farmers and ranchers whose contracts will not be renewed.
In May of 2009, the USDA announced that the Farm Service Agency will offer certain producers the opportunity to modify and extend expiring CRP contracts. This announcement has caused distress among Colorado land owners who are not able to reenroll in the program.
In a letter to Secretary Vilsack, Bennet requested clarification on questions he has repeatedly heard from Colorado farmers, ranchers and landowners on what options may be available to them once their CRP contracts expire.
Bennet wrote in the letter: "Conservation is vital and I recognize the role farmers and ranchers play in preserving top soil, enhancing wildlife habitat, and providing a healthy environment... Farmers, ranchers and taxpayers have made significant investments in CRP, to the benefit of the nation and the world. It would be a shame to see this achievement lost or wasted, yet that is exactly what will happen if landowners are forced to break up their land and discontinue conservation practices for financial reasons."
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has proven to be an effective tool through which the federal government has partnered with farmers in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas to prevent soil erosion and protect an important grassland bird, the lesser prairie chicken. But because of a decision by the 110th Congress to impose a lower cap on the total number of acres that can be enrolled in the program at any one time, that progress may be reversed.
The full text of Bennet's letter to Secretary Vilsack is included below:
July 28, 2009
The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
Jamie L. Whitten Building
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced that a significant number of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts will not be renewed, in order to meet the statutory program cap of 32 million acres. The Southern Plains region has the highest percentage of farmable land enrolled in CRP. The Department's recent announcement has caused distress for many producers in Colorado and across the nation.
In response to questions from many of my Colorado constituents and out of concern for the future of tens of thousands of acres of vulnerable land in the former Dust Bowl region, I am writing today to seek some clarification about the options available to landowners whose contracts will not be renewed. I would ask you to clarify the following points:
1) Must landowners with CRP contracts that are not renewed break up the land and farm it to maintain the assigned base acreage allocated through the farm program?
2) Would landowners who choose to break up their expiring CRP acreage and farm it have the right to re-enroll this acreage in CRP if USDA offers to enroll additional acreage in the program under the general sign-up program at some point in the future?
3) If a landowner with a non-renewed CRP contract chooses other Natural Resource Conservation Service conservation options for the land, will that landowner lose his/her base acreage allocation and the right to re-enroll if the USDA offers an enrollment for additional acreage at some future time?
4) The Allotment and Quota History Preservation Section (Page 19 - 4) of the FSA Handbook on the Agricultural Resource Conservation Program specifies that producers with contracts effective before October 1, 2001 could protect cropland allotment and quota history after their contract expires without planting a crop provided the participants agree to continue to abide by the terms and conditions of the original contract with no additional payments. How would USDA treat participants' cropping history should the producer choose to apply to reenroll in CRP after one, two, or three years?
5) The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 includes report language regarding the treatment of expiring general CRP contracts (Section 1231 of FSA - pages 709 and 710) that reads:
As general CRP contracts expire, the Managers encourage the enrollment of those acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and the continuous CRP. The Managers expect that the Department will use incentive payments, promotional efforts, and agreements with the third parties mentioned above to ensure that the portions of general signup accelerates that can be maintained in the program will be enrolled through continuous CRP.
How does USDA intend to implement this recommendation?
Conservation is vital and I recognize the role farmers and ranchers play in preserving top soil, enhancing wildlife habitat, and providing a healthy environment. CRP has helped the USDA and landowners to pursue carbon sequestration as a consequence that benefits us all, and that gain should be recognized and supported.
Farmers, ranchers and taxpayers have made significant investments in CRP, to the benefit of the nation and the world. It would be a shame to see this achievement lost or wasted, yet that is exactly what will happen if landowners are forced to break up their land and discontinue conservation practices for financial reasons. If we arm landowners with expiring CRP contracts with the answers to these questions, they will be better equipped to make decisions regarding the future of their land.
I look forward to your response.
Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator