West central region keeps majority of its CRP lands
WILLMAR -- More than 3.4 million acres across the country was pulled out of the Conservation Reserve Program when the contracts on those lands expired in September.
Most of that land was enrolled in Texas, Colorado and Kansas, but there was hundreds of thousands of acres in the Dakotas and Montana removed as well, according to the Associated Press.
Improved crop prices and rising farmland rental rates had many fearing that west central Minnesota would witness large-scale losses of CRP lands as well, but a survey of several area counties has found otherwise.
Farm Service Agency directors in the west central area report that overall they believe their counties will see only a small decrease in the total acreage committed to the popular program.
The area Farm Service Agency offices do not yet have an analysis available that compares the net loss or gain of acres as landowners chose whether or not to renew contracts in September, or as others enrolled new lands into the program. Most offices -- from Big Stone and Yellow Medicine counties in the west to Kandiyohi and Meeker counties in the east -- believe the final net change will be small.
There will be some losses, for reasons that are not hard to understand. Land rental rates have risen significantly from what they were 10 and 15 years ago, when the contracts that expired in September needed to be renewed. The rental rates are up $15 to $20 an acre in Big Stone County, said Scott Schneider, Farm Service Agency director in Big Stone County.
"It's hard to compete with that,'' he said. He said landowners holding 10 extended CRP contracts in the county did not renew in September. They are putting the land back into production.
Even so, the difference will not be great. The county had only 21 contracts up for renewal.
Similar situations were replayed in other area counties. Farm Service Agency directors and staff contacted by the Tribune said improved rates for the Conservation Reserve Program contracts helped compensate for the competition from higher land rental and crop rates.
In many cases, the program contracts that were not renewed involved land that no longer qualifies under new guidelines for the program, according to the directors.
Most concurred with Liz Niess, Farm Service Agency director in Chippewa County, who pointed out that year in and year out, the counties in this area do not see significant changes in CRP acreage.
She and others cite a variety of reasons for the stability in Conservation Reserve Program enrollment in this region. They credit landowners with making good economic decisions by enrolling their marginal lands in the program. They appreciate the economic advantages of not struggling with their least productive acres.
Another factor making landowners more willing to renew contracts is the cost of converting those acres back into production.
"It's not the easiest land to put back into production,' said Don Tweet, director of the Farm Service Agency office in Lac qui Parle County.
But perhaps the biggest factor of all in keeping Conservation Reserve Program acres is that the program is doing exactly what was intended.
Those acres have provided many tangible benefits that are appreciated by landowners. Their ability to reduce erosion and serve as filters and buffers to improve water quality, and their value for wildlife, hunting and other recreation is very much appreciated by landowners in Meeker County, said Kathy Garner, Farm Service Agency director for that county.
Garner said the positive, public perception of the Conservation Reserve Program plays a role in influencing landowner decisions as well.