The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that the current general signup period for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has been extended again, this time with no deadline formally established.Originally scheduled to end on February 12, 2021, USDA plans to continue accepting offers as the incoming Administration evaluates the current status of the program and explores opportunities to implement administrative changes aimed at reigniting interest among farmers and ranchers.
CRP is the largest voluntary private lands conservation program in the United States, designed to benefit soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat by transitioning agricultural lands from crop production to conservation practices. Since its inception in 1985, USDA credits the program with several important achievements related to population increases for several declining bird species, reduced nutrient loading in our nation’s streams and rivers, carbon sequestration, and decreased soil erosion. Sportsmen throughout the country readily recognize CRP for the quality habitat that lands enrolled in the program provide for many game and non-game wildlife species.
Improving CRP enrollment has been a priority for the sporting conservation community as interest in the program has seemingly stagnated following changes implemented by both the 2018 Farm Bill and USDA’s Farm Services Agency. These changes, chiefly in the form of decreased rental payments and the elimination of certain incentive payments, have led to declining interest from farmers and ranchers who no longer consider the program to be a viable option. Despite an increased acreage cap, which will reach 27 million acres in 2023, recent CRP enrollments have failed to offset expiring contracts. As of December 2020, less than 21 million acres are enrolled in the program. Even more concerning is the fact that just over half of the more than 5 million acres with expiring contracts were re-enrolled during the 2020 signup period.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation remains engaged in the implementation of CRP and other Farm Bill conservation programs on behalf of our nation’s sportsmen and women. In addition to the economic benefits that these programs can provide for America’s producers, voluntary private lands conservation programs, like those found in the Farm Bill, are critical to the enduring health of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?