Rumors that USDA could be nearing a decision to allow for an early, penalty-free release of some cropland in the Conservation Reserve Program appeared stronger Wednesday as 15 environmental organizations lodged a protest against such an action with Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.
USDA has been tight-lipped about its intentions on the release, although Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said publicly in June that the agency is watching grain supplies carefully and was aware that the time for field preparation work for winter wheat is fast approaching.
In a letter, the 15 environmental organizations wrote, "USDA has been urged to release up to 24 million acres from CRP – roughly three-fourths of the land currently enrolled in the program – and put it back into production. This move would result in a loss of billions of dollars of taxpayer investment in conservation on these lands…Because most CRP lands are marginal for cropping, even if all CRP acres were brought back into commodity production, the impact on aggregate commodity supplies and prices would be modest."
The letter was signed by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation.