Agricultural industry groups Thursday announced support for a bill reforming the Conservation Reserve Program, filed Tuesday by Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.
The new legislation – Preserving Marginal Lands and Protecting Farming Act, H.R. 349 – would allow more farmland to be used for production, rather than lay dormant through the CRP.
The bill restricts the practice of paying landowners to idle cropland. Rep. Roby says CRP land has tended to enroll high-quality and otherwise highly-productive land at a time when farmland is becoming more scarce.
"We need to apply smart erosion prevention and conservation techniques on marginal lands, but using taxpayer money to encourage landowners to let quality cropland lay dormant doesn't make sense," Rep. Roby said. "This legislation restores common sense to the Conservation Reserve Program and saves taxpayers' money."
In a letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., organizations supporting the bill urged that Roby's legislation be considered when the House renews its deliberation on a new five-year farm bill.
The groups wrote that Roby's legislation complements "joint leadership efforts to prudently modify existing law (with respect to the CRP), undertaken as part of the House Agriculture Committee's language" in its version of the 2012 farm bill.
Last year, the National Feed and Grain Association had commended Lucas and Peterson for their efforts to responsibly right-size the CRP while preserving its role in protecting environmentally sensitive land, water quality and wildlife habitat.
NGFA preferred the House Agriculture Committee-passed CRP language compared to the version contained in the Senate-passed farm bill.
"We're extremely pleased that Congresswoman Roby continues her strong leadership on the importance of right-sizing the CRP in a way that preserves its environmental, water-quality and wildlife benefits, while enabling good-quality farmland to exit the program to help the United States remain competitive in response to strong demand for grains and oilseeds," said NGFA President Randy Gordon.
"As was the case last year, her productive efforts will be instrumental as Congress streamlines and updates existing conservation programs in a way that enhances protection of working farmlands that are so essential to both U.S. agriculture's future and its contribution to America's economic growth and job creation," Gordon added.
The NGFA and the other organizations noted that Roby's bill (H.R. 349) would build upon and further improve last year's House CRP farm bill language by: Reducing the acreage cap in the CRP over a five-year period to 24 million acres, rather than the 25-million-acre ceiling contained in both the House Agriculture Committee- and Senate-passed versions of last year's farm bill; and removing from CRP eligibility Class I and II lands, thereby focusing the CRP and scarce federal conservation expenditures on more highly erodible and marginal lands.
Further, Roby's bill would exempt from the CRP-enrollment restriction Class I and II lands that consist of buffer strips, filter strips or portions of land adjacent to grassed waterways that protect water quality.
Letter signatories noted that Roby's bill would mandate that the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the 2014 fiscal year give existing CRP contract holders the freedom to begin restoring to production – before contract expiration and without penalty – qualifying CRP acres that have been enrolled for at least five years and that can be farmed in an environmentally sustainable way.
Roby's bill mirrors and updates the House Agriculture Committee-passed 2012 farm bill, which contained such a mandate for the 2013 fiscal year only. However, the NGFA and the other organizations, urged that the House Agriculture Committee consider extending the mandatory penalty-free early out language to multiple fiscal years beyond 2014 once it begins consideration of a new farm bill.
The letter called Roby's bill "extremely timely" given last summer's drought that "gripped America's most important crop-production regions." It also noted that current weather projections indicate the 2013 growing season may experience drier- and warmer-than-normal growing conditions, "with limited opportunity to rebuild extremely tight grain and oilseed stocks."
In addition to the NGFA, the letter was signed by the following national organizations: American Feed Industry Association, Agricultural Retailers Association, National Chicken Council, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, North American Millers' Association, and The Fertilizer Institute.