Low grain prices are making it more attractive for Minnesota farmers to put their land in a program that pays them to replant it with trees and grasses benefiting wildlife and reducing erosion.
Minnesota farmers enrolled just over 1 million acres in the longtime federal Conservation Reserve Program last year, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Val Dolcini, who oversees the program, said about 23.5 million acres are in the program across the country.
Southwestern Minnesota farmer Walt Kellen has about 130 of his nearly 1,000 acres in the program, with groves of trees and acres of prairie plants breaking up fields of corn and soybeans. He said he's happy to take payments from the program instead of trying to grow crops on marginal land, and that he likes that wildlife on his farm has increased.
Kellen gets about $80 an acre for his land in the program. The average in Minnesota is roughly $95 an acre. Payments are higher for more productive land.
Iowa State University economics professor Bruce Babcock said participation in the program fell substantial in the time when grain prices were high, which ended in 2013. The number of acres in the program dropped by about one-third since the peak in 2007, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
"Farmers looked at grain prices and said, 'Hey, I can earn more from the market than I can from the government.' So they didn't renew their contracts," Babcock said.
Dolcini said it's expected that some farmers will abandon the program at times.
"For farmers," Docini said, "it's a multi-faceted approach to maintaining the economic vitality of their individual farms."