USDA to Increase Irrigation Rental Rates for Republican River Farmers and Ranchers Following Urging from Bennet

Bennet Commits to Continue Pushing for Full Equity

Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will increase Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) irrigation rental rates for farmers and ranchers in the Republican River system. USDA will raise the average annual rental rate for Colorado to $180 from $115 per acre. This program is critical for water conservation in the region.

"We're glad the USDA is taking steps to ensure Colorado's producers are treated more equitably for their efforts to help conserve water in the Republican River watershed, and we will continue to push for full equity," Bennet said. "CREP is a valuable program to help us compensate farmers and ranchers for their water conservation efforts. We will keep working with the Republican River Water Conservation District and USDA to ensure CREP continues to be a helpful tool to our producers."

Earlier this month, Bennet wrote to and spoke with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting the agency implement equitable CREP irrigation rental rates for Colorado producers. The previous rate was nearly 50 percent less than the CREP rate paid to farmers just across the border in Nebraska.

CREP is part of the Conservation Reserve Program, the country's largest private-land conservation program. Participation is voluntary, and the contract period is typically 10 to 15 years.

Full text of Bennet's letter:

March 3, 2016

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write to request that the Department of Agriculture implement equitable Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) irrigation rental rates for the Republican River CREP. I appreciate the recent conversations that you and your staff have had with me and my office. We encourage you to continue to work with us and the Republican River Water Conservation District (‘District') on this issue.

Currently, the Colorado Republican River CREP irrigation rental rate is $115 per acre, which is nearly 50 percent lower than CREP irrigation rental rates ($210-$215 per acre) in connected watersheds in Nebraska. Despite previous inquiries from the District and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, it remains unclear why there is such a significant rate difference between the two states.

CREP is a valuable, voluntary tool for land and water conservation that ranchers, farmers and landowners use across the country. However, outdated rental rates cause inequitable conditions in the Republican River system. This puts Coloradans at a disadvantage and makes it more difficult to meet our obligations under the Republican River Compact. A higher rental rate in Colorado would encourage CREP participation and improve water management in this multi-state region.

I appreciate your commitment to re-evaluate the current rate structure and encourage the Department of Agriculture to establish equitable rental rates for the Colorado Republican River CREP.

Thank you for your consideration.