Tuesday, April 03, 2007
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) -- sometimes jokingly referred to as the Farmers Retirement Plan -- is "about to shrink by millions of acres as part of the Bush administration's plans for stimulating corn production for ethanol to reduce dependence on foreign oil." Since it began in 1985, the CRP, has enrolled some 37 million acres of private land -- more land than is in the national wildlife refuge system in the Lower 48. Most of that land is either marginal for production -- i.e., steep and prone to erosion -- or important for conservation reasons -- i.e., wetlands or riparian zones. According to the article, "the Department of Agriculture recently suspended enrollment in the program for at least a year" and has also considered releasing "farmers and ranchers from existing contracts that protect land already in the program." You can't blame it all on the USDA or the ethanol boom, however. The CRP is a voluntary program and as conservation contracts expire, many farmers are being tempted not only by corn contracts but also by developers as homes and office parks continue to invade what was once called countryside.