USDA’s Farm Service Agency this week announced it has allocated all the funding provided in the 2008 farm bill for the Conservation Reserve Program - Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP).  The 2008 farm bill provided $25 million to provide an incentive for landowners to transfer land from an expiring CRP contract to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher to return the land to production for sustainable grazing or crop production, with additional measures to encourage good conservation.

Retiring landowners are provided an additional two years of Conservation Reserve Program payments on land that is transferred to a new farmer or rancher under the CRP-TIP. FSA stopped accepting offers for CRP-TIP on February 24 as the funding provided by the farm bill has all been used.  FSA also released a state-by-state summary of land enrolled or with pending enrollment in the program as of February 23.  Overall, CRP-TIP has 1,626 contracts enrolled or pending enrollment, covering 260,523 acres of land in 26 states. 

Not surprisingly, the top ten states for number of CRP-TIP contracts, both enrolled and pending, include most of the top CRP states in general:

1.             North Dakota - 346

2.             Kansas - 219

3.             Montana - 206  

4.             Nebraska -145

5.             Minnesota - 117

6.             Missouri - 94

7.             Iowa  - 84

8.             Kentucky - 59

9.             Texas - 49

10.         Pennsylvania - 37  /  Idaho - 37 (tied).

Currently about 29.6 million acres are enrolled in the CRP.  Contracts for almost 6.5 million acres nationwide are scheduled to expire at the end in at the end of September 2012 and an additional 3.3 million acres are scheduled to expire in 2013. 

“It is critical for CRP-TIP to be included in the new farm bill, and we are encouraged by the fact it was included in the draft farm bill constructed for the congressional “super committee” last fall,” said Martha Noble, senior policy associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “Unfortunately, now that the 2008 Farm Bill funding has been fully used, the program has come to a screeching halt right at the worst time, as 6.5 million acres are scheduled to expire later this year.  We call upon USDA and Congress to work out an interim arrangement to allow CRP-TIP to continue under the regular CRP budget.  The win-win opportunity to retain conservation while advancing new farming opportunities is too valuable to allow it to languish during the year of its maximum utility.”

CRP-TIP was part of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2007 introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) among others.  NSAC developed the policy proposal for this program and worked for its inclusion in the 2008 Farm Bill. 

“The CRP-TIP has helped new farmers and ranchers overcome a big barrier – access to land,” said Noble.  “In addition, CRP-TIP requires that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service reach out to beginning farmers and ranchers with information about the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which have resources to help them establish sustainable farming systems.”

Many NSAC member organizations worked within their states to ensure that word about the program got out to retiring landowners with expiring CRP contracts and to aspiring new farmers and ranchers. 

Traci Bruckner, Assistant Director for Rural Policy Program at the Center for Rural Affairs, currently serves as the chair of USDA’s Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.  She observed, “The Farm Service Agency should be commended for their outreach on CRP-TIP.  The program has proved its value and should be continued.”

A proposal for CRP-TIP reauthorization is included in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 (S. 1850, H.R. 3236).  That bill, sponsored by Harkin, Walz, and Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), is a comprehensive proposal to align farm bill programs with the goal of getting a new generation of family farmers started in agriculture.  The Act was introduced with the aim of getting its provisions included in the 2012 Farm Bill.  More information on the bill is available at http://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/beginning-farmer-bill/.