Winter wheat farmers should be allowed to stay in a popular land conservation program for another year even if the Agriculture Department rejects their land, a key lawmaker said Wednesday.
Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said his panel will take up legislation Thursday that would give farmers that option.
The draft bill would address concern that farmers who grow fall-planted crops won’t have time to prepare their ground if the Agriculture Department rejects their applications to re-enroll land in the Conservation Reserve Program.
“Farmers need to make planting decisions,” said Smith. “Folks who grow winter crops needed to know weeks ago if they will be enrolled in CRP, and USDA is still nowhere near ready to make that call.”
USDA announced new CRP rules in February, but thousands of farmers won’t know until June at the earliest whether their land will be accepted. CRP pays farmers not to grow crops on land that is prone to erosion or has other environmental benefits, such as wildlife habitat.
CRP contracts on about 22 million acres expire Sept. 30. Farmers have offered roughly 26 million acres for CRP under this year’s new sign-ups.
In Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and other winter wheat states, farmers need to know in the spring whether they will convert CRP ground that is planted with moisture-robbing grass into cropland. Farmers must plow the ground and have time to buy seed, fertilizer and pesticides.
If the CRP decisions don’t come until summer, farmers that are rejected for the program will get nothing out of the land because it will be too late to plant by September, said Kansas Farm Bureau spokesman Paul Fleener.
“You won’t be able to get a wheat crop in it, so it’s going to sit there for a year,” Fleener said.
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