During a House Ag Committee hearing on conservation programs funded through the farm bill, House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) threatened to sue the administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Richard Fordyce, over continuous sign-ups for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
“I’m going to stop it somehow or another,” Peterson said of the continuous signup, which FSA announced Wednesday morning. Peterson said to Fordyce, “If I have to sue you, I will.”
According to Peterson, starting signups now for continuous contracts, several months before general signups begin, as well as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) would mean fewer landowners would be interested when the general CRP signup occurs in December.
Landowners are “going to get three times as much as they will get in the general [signup]. That’s just going to just suck more acres up into the continuous that are not going to be available for the general [signup]," Peterson said.
Peterson favors general CRP signup, because in his words, enrolling larger tracts versus the smaller ones has more benefits in terms of wildlife habitat, Pro Farmer’s Jim Wiesemeyer reports.
“By opening a continuous signup before the general signup, USDA is essentially incentivizing farmers to just go ahead and enroll smaller chunks of land,” he says.
The 2018 farm bill imposed new limits on payments under both types of CRP contracts. Payment rates will be capped at no more than 85% of the average county rental rate for general sign-up contracts and at no more than 90% of the county rental rate for the continuous signup, Wiesemeyer explains. “Rate caps were intended to address concerns that excessive CRP payments were encouraging landowners to idle productive land in CRP rather than allowing it to be farmed.”
FSA is applying the 90% cap to the continuous signup announced Wednesday. The department delayed the general signup to write new regulations implementing changes made by the 2018 farm bill, according to Fordyce. During the hearing he told Peterson that the continuous signup could be resumed without developing new rules.
Under continuous CRP signup, environmentally sensitive land devoted to certain conservation practices can be enrolled in CRP at any time, USDA's website says. Offers are automatically accepted provided the land and producer meet certain eligibility requirements and the enrollment levels do not exceed the statutory cap. Unlike CRP enrollments under general CRP signups or CRP Grasslands, offers for continuous enrollment are not subject to competitive bidding during specific periods, according to the agency.
According to Fordyce, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is committed to having the general signup in December, though new regulations have not been finalized. He said there were several new CRP requirements in the 2018 Farm Bill that did not apply to the continuous signup.
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