The Conservation Reserve signup that opens on Monday could see landowners idle the largest amount of fragile cropland in years, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, although some analysts say lower government payment rates will hold down enrollment in the program.
The USDA will hold its first “general” signup for the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program under the 2018 farm bill in early December, and “we expect to enroll a large number of acres,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Steve Censky on Thursday.
Farmers can expect a deluge of federal payments in the weeks ahead to cushion the effect of farm exports lost to the trade war and plantings washed away by the rainiest spring in a quarter-century, say analysts. "It's probably going to be August" when the biggest shower of payments begins, the multibillion-dollar, stop-gap Market Facilitation Program, according to Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Northey, who oversees farm subsidies.
Almost as soon as the USDA offered to admit land in need of high-priority stewardship practices into the long-term Conservation Reserve Program, the House Agriculture chairman threatened on Thursday to void the offer. “I am going to stop it somehow or other,” chairman Collin Peterson told two USDA officials.
Late this summer, growers will get their first chance in years to switch between the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage subsidies, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told lawmakers last week. During testimony at two hearings, Perdue also said the USDA would hold a "general" sign-up for the Conservation Reserve before the end of the year.
At the same time President Trump signed into law the 2018 farm bill, which modestly strengthens the farm safety net, loosens farm subsidy rules, and legalizes industrial hemp, he announced “immediate action on welfare reform” on Thursday through stricter enforcement of time limits on food stamps to able-bodied adults.
The House and Senate made relatively few changes to the farm program in passing separate versions of the new farm bill. The next step is to reconcile differences in the bills, and the cotton industry's desire to protect its subsidies is just one of a long list of likely flashpoints.
President Trump called for elimination of the USDA’s green-payment program for working lands conservation in his budget. Now four members of the Senate Agriculture Committee are taking the opposite approach.
The USDA spends several billion dollars a year on voluntary land stewardship programs. With the 2018 farm bill on the horizon, two members of the House Agriculture Committee have unveiled legislation that would require the USDA to evaluate and report on the impact of the soil and water projects it bankrolls.