What Can Be Done About Farmland Abandonment?

Over the past 20 years, the US has lost nearly 100,000 square miles of farmland. By 2030, we could lose another 77,000While much of this loss is caused by urban expansion and development, some of the land is simply abandoned. 

Abandoned farmland is a growing problem in the US. Not only does it hurt crop production and farming profits, but it’s an environmental liability as well. Left unattended, land that has been regularly farmed is unlikely to ever fully recover and return to its natural state. Studies have shown that even 91 years after abandonment, farmland will only be 73% as diverse and 53% as productive as it would be had it never been plowed. 

This is largely due to the impact farming has on landContinuous planting, harvesting, and tilling break down soil structure. Meanwhile, farm crops often drain the ground of precious nutrients while leaving it exposed to wind and rain, resulting in erosion and further damage. Abandoned farmland can contribute to increased carbon in the atmosphere, additional runoff into local water supplies, and more. 

There are a number of reasons why farmland is abandoned. In some cases, it may be because it was inherited by someone who doesn’t want to sell it, but also has no plans to farm it. More likely, however, it’s abandoned because it has become marginalized. Farming the land simply becomes unprofitable, resulting in farmers skipping over the land for a season or two. If conditions don’t improve, it may simply remain abandoned.  

Rather than remain a profitless liability to the environment, however, abandoned and marginal farmland actually have the potential to become both profitable and beneficial to its local ecosystem. 

Converting Abandoned Farmland into Natural Habitat 

Once farmland has become marginal, it can be difficult to bring it back to a profitable state. Reverting it back to natural habitat with native vegetation can restore balance while returning health to the soil. Though land might take a century or more to naturally revert to this state, modern technology and strategic planting practices can accomplish the task in just a few years. 

The trouble is, manually converting farmland to natural habitat requires money, resources, time, proper equipment, and strategy. Most farmers simply can’t justify investing all of this into land that they’re already losing money on. 

That’s why there are a number initiatives specifically designed to restore marginal and abandoned farmland to a more natural state. 

For farmers, one of the leading options is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP pays farmers and landowners market-based rental payments in exchange for taking farmland out of active crop production and establishing perennial vegetation. In the case of abandoned farmland and CRP, there is one important restriction. The land must have been cropped at least 4 of the last 6 years.  

If you meet that requirement, your land is likely eligible for CRP. Within CRP, there are a number of conservation practices (CP) in which to enroll. These fall within different divisions of CRP such as general CRP, Continuous CRP, and CREP. 

General CRP works on a bidding system where interested parties submit a bid which is then scored against other bids. Enrollment for general CRP is currently open until February 12. To learn more about this program, click here. 

Continuous CRP is a similar program that specifically targets environmentally sensitive land. Unlike general CRP, qualifying applicants are automatically accepted into the program, and enrollment remains open as long as there are still acres available.  

CREP is an initiative offered in select states under an agreement between federal and state governments. Like CCRP, it doesn’t use a bidding system. Qualifying applicants are automatically accepted. To see if CREP is available in your state, click here. 

Don’t let your fallow farmland become abandoned. Act now and enroll it in CRP. Not only can you generate a profit, but you can return health to your land while protecting the environment as a whole. At FDCE, we offer full-service CRP solutions that include seed selection and purchasing, vegetation establishment, herbicide application, documentation, and report submission to FSA for cost-share reimbursement. 

Our CRP service contractors can also help with the initial enrollment process. Contact us today to learn what FDCE can do for you!