USDA and Conservation Reserve Losses

I blogged about the Conservation Reserve program before; basically it’s a program that pays farmers to not till highly-erodible or wetland areas, and encourages them to plant native prairie or trees. (This program was recently named as the single most effective conservation practice for birds and other species conservation in prairies.)

News this week:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week that it will not allow farmers to plant crops on lands set aside in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) without paying the normal penalty for breaking their contract. Restrictions on grazing and haying were lifted in May by USDA to help livestock producers struggling with high feed prices, resulting from large quantities of corn being diverted for biofuel production…

High commodity prices are encouraging farmers to boost production by tilling marginal CRP farmlands that are better left fallow to conserve soils and water quality, and to provide habitat important to birds and other wildlife.

This is a good thing–while some restrictions on land use have been lifted, it’s not a wholesale opening up of the conserved lands.  Unfortunately, about 4 million acres are under contracts expected to expire next year, and it’s unlikely that they will be renewed.

Additional coverage from Reuters