WASHINGTON (Gray DC) There could be good news for farmers looking to participate in a popular federal land conservation program.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are looking to expand the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP in the next farm bill.
The CRP is a federal program that awards money to farmers, requiring them to stop production on their land for 10-15 year intervals to improve the environment.
However, enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP is now more competitive than ever.
"We've lost a lot of CPR acres in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota. Lot of the acres that were in CRP have not gotten back in," said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN).
Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson is the lead Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. He wants to expand the CRP under the next Farm Bill. Right now, the Government limits the program to 24 million acres. Peterson wants to raise it to 40 million to allow more farmers to participate.
"There's wildlife benefits, conservation benefits. But, beyond that is the best you can do, the best thing we can do right now for prices is to take land out of production," Peterson said.
Republican Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska is also on the House Agriculture Committee. He says he's open to expanding the program.
“I toured a lot of agriculture communities, went all over Central Nebraska last week, for two and a half days and that was an issue that was brought up," Rep. Bacon (R-NE) explained. "For me, I would say the book is open on this. I want to hear the debate, the pros and cons and go from there."
According to the Congressional Budget Office, expanding the program to Peterson’s proposal would cost $6 billion. That’s why South Dakota Senator John Thune is recommending a smaller acreage increase, which he says would cost $1 billion.
“I'm proposing taking it up to 30 million acres," Sen. Thune (R-SD) said. "40 million would be very ambitious and very expensive. I mean, if you're going to put land into CRP, there's a cost associated with that."
The debate over CRP's fate is just beginning. Lawmakers will have to cut from other programs funded in the next Farm Bill to pay for the expansion of this one.