Minnesota conservation reserve acres are declining

More than 100,000 acres of environmentally sensitive Minnesota farm land are likely to be removed this fall from the federal Conservation Reserve Program that pays farmers to idle land for 10 to 15 years.

Much of that land that now is planted in grass will be growing corn or soybeans next spring. The return of the land to row crops will continue a trend occurring in Minnesota, and across the country, since 2007.

And the trend – driven by federal budget constraints and high commodity prices that induce farmers to choose cropping over the yearly federal conservation payments – is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

“We’re looking at potentially losing 750,000 more acres in Minnesota within the next five year,” said Bill Penning, the supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prairie habitat team.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced recently that it has approved 99,000 acres for re-enrollment or new enrollment in CRP in Minnesota. But that is only about one-third of the 290,000 acres on which CRP contracts expire on Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The exact amount of land that comes out of CRP on Sept. 30 will be determined by how many farmers with land in a small subset of the program decide to remove from the conservation effort many relatively small tracts of land dedicated to practices that include stream buffers, uncropped wellhead protection areas, windbreaks and living snow fences.

Land idled for those kinds of practices currently totals about 43,000 acres in Minnesota.  All of that land could stay in CRP, but it is likely some of it will come out.

“It’s going to be well over 100,000 acres that’s going to come out of the program,” said Matt Holland, senior field coordinator for Pheasants Forever in Minnesota.

Across the country, CRP acres peaked at about 36.8 million acres in 2007. In 2008, Congress capped national participation in the program at 32 million acres.  The USDA has predicted that the current CRP enrollment of about 29.6 million acres will decline to 29 million in the new fiscal year.

Minnesota participation in CRP peaked at about 1.8 million acres in 2007 and has slowly declined since then to about 1.6 million this year.

To view state-by-state data on CRP contracts this year and over the next  years, click here, then scroll down to CRP Contract Expirations by State, 2012-2018.