A bill filed last week by U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., tightens enrollment requirements in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
The CRP was originally implemented to prevent erosion and protect sensitive farmland by providing funding for landowners to convert marginal cropland to grass or timber.
Recently, however, the program has tended to enroll high-quality and otherwise highly productive land, all at a time when farmland is becoming scarce, Roby said.
“We need to apply smart erosion prevention and conservation techniques on marginal lands, but using taxpayer money to encourage landowners to let quality cropland lay dormant doesn’t make sense,” Roby said. “This legislation restores common sense to the Conservation Reserve Program and saves taxpayers’ money.”
Roby’s bill, the Preserving Marginal Lands and Protecting Farming Act, H.R. 349, would:
• Reduce the overall number of acres held in CRP nationwide by 24 million acres over four years.
• End payments for non-farming of the most fertile and least sensitive lands. The CRP classifies acreage in eight categories based on the soil’s ability to support vegetation and crops. This bill would make non-marginal Class I and II lands, which are the most fertile and least sensitive, ineligible from the CRP.
• Save taxpayers millions in federal spending annually.
Conservation incentives on highly eroded lands and other environmentally sensitive land classified as Class III through VIII would not change.
The legislation would not affect a landowner’s right to convert private land to timber or grasslands for conservation purposes if he or she chooses to do so.
Roby put forward a similar bill last year and was able to get portions of it included in the farm bill that passed out of the House Agriculture Committee in July 2012.
The farm bill did not pass the full House before the 112th Congress adjourned.
Farming and conservation groups from across the agricultural spectrum support Roby’s resolution.
• Alabama Farmers Federation
• National Grain and Feed Association
• American Feed Industry Association
• Agricultural Retailers Association
• National Chicken Council • National Oilseed Processors Association
• National Pork Producers Council
• National Turkey Federation
• North American Millers’ Association
• The Fertilizer Institute
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell praised Roby’s bill, citing the need for more available farmland and less wasteful spending in Washington.
“We support Congressman Roby’s common-sense legislation that addresses two huge challenges jeopardizing America’s future,” Parnell said. “It offers an opportunity to reduce deficit spending in Washington, and it keeps our nation’s most productive farmland in cultivation.”
Parnell added that technology advancements alone would not meet the growing world demand for food and fiber. The availability of quality farmland will be vital, he said.