A Reagan-era creation, the Conservation Reserve is the largest U.S. land retirement program, paying landowners an annual rent if they idle environmentally fragile cropland for 10-15 years. But when the contracts expire, most of the land goes back into crop production, says a USDA report that …
Farmers would pay a far larger share of crop insurance premiums — 52 percent instead of the current 38 percent — under the fiscal 2020 budget proposed by President Trump on Monday. The White House also wants to deny farm program benefits to people with an adjusted gross income above $500,000 a year vs. the current cutoff of $900,000 AGI.
The USDA says there is now enough room in the Conservation Reserve that, for the first time in months, it will accept applications for high-priority stewardship projects, such as filter strips, that prevent erosion and maintain water quality on fragile land. Enrollment runs from today through Aug. 17 for the practices, which require comparatively small amounts of land.
The Republican-sponsored House farm bill unveiled on Thursday would expand the land-idling Conservation Reserve by one-fifth and eliminate the green-payment Conservation Stewardship Program.
More than one-fifth of the 24 million acres now in the Conservation Reserve, a long-term farmland retirement program that pays landowners to idle fragile land, have been in the program for 20 or more years.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey says modifications to three USDA conservation programs will help organic farmers get established. A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Casey said with demand on the rise for organic food, "we must do all we can to help American farmers and ranchers meet this demand."
With the start of the new fiscal year, the USDA said it will accept most of the pending applications to enroll land in the Conservation Reserve, the first time in five months that land has been accepted under the so-called continuous enrollment option. At the same time, the Farm Service Agency said it suspended work on applications submitted after Sept. 30 "until later in the 2018 fiscal year" so it does not exceed the 24 million-acre limit for the land-idling program.
With the start of the new fiscal year, the USDA will issue $8 billion in crop subsidy payments, triggered by persistently low commodity prices, to hundreds of thousands of farmers. The government also said it will pay $1.6 billion in annual rental payments to landowners who enrolled fragile land in the Conservation Reserve.
Faced with prolonged and intensifying drought in the northern Plains, USDA opened a still-larger portion of the Conservation Reserve, ordinarily off-limits to farm work, to emergency haying and grazing. In its fourth announcement of permission for landowners to use the idled land for livestock forage, the USDA said haying and grazing would be permitted on wetlands and on buffer strips, often used to protect waterways from farm runoff, that are enrolled in the reserve.
With drought intensifying in the northern Plains, the USDA is taking an additional step to help ranchers short of livestock forage. The owners of land idled in the Conservation Reserve have USDA approval to harvest hay from the set-aside land in counties in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana where drought conditions are rated as "severe" or worse.