Mixed Results in Most Recent Report on USDA Conservation Reserve Programs

Mixed Results in Most Recent Report on USDA Conservation Reserve Programs

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has released a summary of net changes in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for Fiscal Year 2021 (ending September 2021). Net change is a key CRP metric in years that new acres can be signed up, and both General CRP and Grassland CRP had new acre sign ups in FY21. In net, by the end of the 2020-2021 program year, General CRP had fewer acres while Grassland CRP had more acres.

CRP acres totaled 22.3 million in October 2021. Sub-program shares are General CRP (46%), Continuous CRP (36%), and Grassland CRP (18%). General CRP retires cropland from production for most commonly 10 to 15 years with a focus on whole fields and farms. Continuous CRP has the same land eligibility requirements as General CRP but targets the most environmentally beneficial land within fields. Grassland CRP emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity, and eligible land containing shrubs and forbs under the greatest threat of conversion. Under Grassland CRP, a permanent cover is maintained, and acres do not have to be previously cropped.

General CRP acres declined for 40 states, with net decline largest in Texas and Kansas. Only three states had a net increase in General CRP acres: Utah (+6,763), Wyoming (+4,791), and Alaska (+2,462). Grassland CRP acres increased in 33 states and declined in five states. Most (95%) of the increase was in nine Great Plains states.

Even with enhanced program incentives, the 10% net decline in General CRP acres underscores the important role crop prices play in determining General CRP acres. In contrast, despite high crop prices, acres in Continuous CRP increased a net 5%. The net decline in General CRP acres reduces CRP’s land retirement role, likely expanding agricultural output. Negative environmental impacts can be minimized if the most environmentally sensitive part of these fields are shifted to Continuous CRP.

The loss of traditional CRP in eastern states, and the enrollment of existing working ranchland in the Great Plains states, likely is negative for efforts to increase grassland wildlife populations. Recent changes by FSA to rental rates and other enrollment criteria helped boost enrollment in practices like SAFE and CP23A, but high commodity prices for corn, soybeans, and wheat will continue to negatively affect participation in these important conservation programs.

December 15, 2021