The Evolution of the Conservation Reserve Program

With the government shutdown behind us (hopefully for good) and the 2018 farm bill finally taking effect, we hope to see new enrollment in CRP for 2019 very soon. We think that makes this the perfect time to look back on a little history of CRP and how it has changed in recent years. 

CRP has been around for more than a quarter century. The overall goal of restoring and sustaining land health has remained the same, but how that’s achieved has evolved. But before we get to that, it’s important to understand how the need for CRP arose. 

Conservation Efforts Before CRP 

The Conservation Reserve Program wasn’t exactly the first of its kind. In 1956, the Agriculture Act of 1956 created the Soil Bank Program. One component of this program was dedicated to removing damaged soil from active production, replacing row crops with native plants or alternative vegetative cover to counter erosion and restore vitality. 

While conservation was a goal, the program served a dual purpose. The 1950’s saw a commodity surplus, lowering farmers’ incomes. Rather than force market or production control, the Soil Bank Program was able to take underperforming land out of commission, reducing row crop production while improving soil health. 

As a result, market prices balanced and farmers received rental payments for enrollment. Though contracts only lasted three years, the program maintained balance to commodity prices until the late 70’s when farmers began planting fence row to fence row to maximize output and crop yield. This farming practice eliminated surrounding field edge vegetation thus destroying wildlife areas. Soon, soil and water quality began to suffer. 

A drastic change was needed to restore a more favorable conservation balance. Thus, the farm bill of 1985 created the Conservation Reserve Program. 

CRP from 1985-2019 

The Conservation Reserve Program has always placed an emphasis on long term contracts, immediately increasing the three-year commitment to 10-15 years. Initially, the dominant focus of CRP was establishing native plants to combat soil erosion. However, it soon expanded to wildlife and wetland protection (particularly with the 1990 farm bill), as well as pollinator habitat establishment. 

Enrollment in CRP increased rapidly, with enrollment reaching a peak in 2007. Around this time, commodities such as corn and soybeans saw an increase in value, luring landowners away from CRP.  The 2008 farm bill would see a decrease in acres available for enrollment, eventually preventing some farmers from re-enrolling when their contracts expired. 

While CRP continued to see a decrease in enrollment over the past decade, the market has started to change. 

In fact, we’re seeing some very positive trends regarding the future of conservation. The latest farm bill of 2018 saw the first increase in available land for enrollment since 1996. Rental rates as a whole have increased in recent years, though some states have seen theirs go down. This has led to an increased interest in continuous CRP practices like CP38 and state-assisted programs such as CREP, as they typically have additional incentive payments and/or additional state funding.

The new farm bill will be allocating more acres towards  the above mentioned continuous programs. While they require more sophisticated CRP seed mixes and stricter planting requirements, they can also produce better results and higher payments to landowners. With the right partner, farmers and landowners can experience great success with no additional work on their end. 

That’s where FDCE come in. We specializes in full-service solutions for programs such as CRP and CREP. We handle the seed purchasing, planting, herbicide and spraying as well as provide the CRP participant and FSA with all of the paperwork required for program compliance and cost share reimbursement. Contact FDCE today!