The USDA accepted nearly 2 out of every 3 acres that were offered this spring for enrollment into the Conservation Reserve grasslands initiative, 1.2 million acres in all, said the Farm Service Agency on Thursday.
The 2018 farm law allows an additional 3 million acres into the land-idling Conservation Reserve, partly to offset the low market prices that followed the collapse of the commodity boom earlier this decade. Lawmakers may opt for another expansion of the reserve if farmers face mountains of surplus grain and continued low prices, said two University of Illinois economists.
Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve has paid landowners an annual rent to idle environmentally fragile land under contracts that last for 10 or 15 years. Now a pilot program will offer a 30-year contract in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay regions.
The USDA will pay an annual rent of $55 an acre on land entering the Conservation Reserve through the recently completed signup, a drop of $8 an acre from the last time landowners idled large tracts of land in the reserve, said a USDA spokeswoman on Wednesday.
The lower rental rates set in the 2018 farm law for the Conservation Reserve may be discouraging enrollment in the program to idle fragile farmland. The USDA said on Thursday that it had accepted for entry 9 of every 10 acres offered in the recently completed "general" signup, for a total of 3.4 million acres — 2 million fewer acres than will leave the reserve this fall.
The trade in wild animals is coming under increasing pressure to shut down, ever since the source of the Covid-19 pandemic was linked to a "wet market" in Wuhan, where throngs of customers shop for live animals held in cramped quarters, according to FERN's latest story, by Brian Barth. (No paywall)
For the first time, the USDA would assess the results of its land stewardship programs, such as tons of carbon sequestered in the soil or reductions in nutrient runoff, under companion bills filed in the House and Senate on Wednesday.
Despite lower rental rates, enrollment in the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program is "competitive" this year, a USDA official said at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. The 2018 farm bill raised the cap on the number of acres to be enrolled in the CRP from 24 million to 27 million, and Congress reduced the rates paid to farmers to fund the expansion.
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.