Tuesday, March 02, 2010

USDA wants to expand conservation reserve land

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to maximize enrollment in the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program, Secretary Tom Vilsack says. The proposal would reduce U.S. cropland by 1.5 percent if successful, Charles Abbot of Reuters reports, and "the amount of land involved, around 5 million acres, could produce more than 150 million bushels of wheat, 200 million bushels of soybeans or 700 million bushels of corn, based on recent abandonment rates and the Agriculture Department's projected yields for the three crops this year."

"It is my goal to ensure that we maximize enrollment -- and holding a general signup is an additional step we can take to enroll acres in this program," Vilsack told sportsmen at a weekend convention in Iowa. The reserve pays an annual rent to owners who agree to idle fragile cropland for 10 years or longer. Around 4.5 million acres in contracts expire Sept. 30, with an additional 10.6 million acres scheduled to expire over the next two years. (Read more)

UPDATE (3/4): Vilsack was on the defensive Tuesday after Democratic Sen. and fellow Iowan Tom Harkin alleged the agriculture budget would actually result in a 4-million acre cut to federal conservation programs. Vilsack admitted the program probably "won’t enroll the full amount of acreage, 12.8 million, allowed for the Harkin-authored Conservation Stewardship Program," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports. Vilsack explained the budget does include a cut to the program, because "the administration is asking for less money than Congress authorized, but the total spending and acreage would actually increase from this year to next," Brasher writes. (Read more)

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