Conservation Reserve Program

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Bioenergy > United States/Land use > Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

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The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a program of the US Department of Agriculture initiated in 1985 that provides payments to certain farmers in the United States to not plant crops on their land in order to provide a "conservation reserve" of land to serve as habitat for wildlife. According to the Washington Post,

a "typical contract under the program lasts for 10 or 15 years. Anyone wishing to opt out has to pay a penalty and refund all the rent money to the government."[1]



  • A billion tons of biomass a viable goal, but at high price, new research shows, 16 February 2011 by "A team of researchers led by Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, shows that between 600 and 900 million metric tons of biomass could be produced in 2030 at a price of $140 per metric ton (in 2007 dollars) while still meeting demand for food with current assumptions about yields, production costs and land availability."
    • "According to the study, not only would this require producing about a billion tons of biomass every year in the U.S., it would also mean using a part of the available land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for energy crop production, which could significantly increase biomass production and keep biomass costs low."
    • "The study also contends that the economic viability of cellulosic biofuels depends on significant policy support in the form of the biofuel mandate and incentives for agricultural producers for harvesting, storing and delivering biomass as well as switching land from conventional crops to perennial grasses."[2]
  • USDA Report Punches Another Hole in Land Use Change Theory, 30 June 2010 by Renewable Fuels Association: "The amount of land dedicated to crops in the United States has dropped for the second straight year in 2010, according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report, which shows total cropland has declined 6 million acres since 2008, is further evidence that growth in ethanol production is not leading to cropland expansion, according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA)."
    • "While 2010 corn acres increased 1.6% from 2009, the uptick was more than offset by reductions in acreage for other coarse grains and wheat. USDA estimates total 2010 crop acres at 318.9 million, down from 319.3 million in 2009 and 325 million in 2008."
    • "RFA also noted that corn plantings were down from last year in many states with high levels of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage, which challenges the notion that grain ethanol expansion is leading to increased CRP conversion."
    • "USDA’s Acreage Report is available here."[3]
  • In Search of Wildlife-friendly Biofuels: Could Native Prairie Plants Be the Answer, 29 September 2009 by NewsWise/Michigan Technological University: "The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country’s grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University and The Nature Conservancy."
    • In an article in BioScience, researchers "analyze the impacts on wildlife of the burgeoning conversion of grasslands to corn for ethanol production".
    • "Most of the recent expansion in land planted to corn involves land previously used to grow other crops. But there is evidence that more and more land that had been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is also being converted to crop production."
    • "What’s the solution? There are at least two ways to produce bioenergy without destroying wildlife [and habitat], the researchers say. One is to use biomass sources that don’t require additional land, such as agricultural residues and other wastes from municipal, animal, food and forestry industries."
    • "Another is to grow native perennials such as switchgrass and big bluestem. The natural diversity of prairie plants offers many benefits, including increased carbon storage in the soil, erosion control and the maintenance of insect diversity, which does double duty by providing food for birds and helping to pollinate nearby crops."[4]
  • USDA Rule Change May Lead To Crops on Conserved Land, 11 July 2008 by the Washington Post: "Under pressure from farmers, livestock producers and soaring food prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing a policy change that could lead to the plowing of millions of acres of land that had been set aside for conservation."
    • The "ethanol boom, widespread flooding and high prices for feed crops have changed the equation. Livestock producers have been howling about the high price of animal feed."
    • "'We need more corn. That's all there is to it,' said Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, one of many agricultural trade groups pressuring Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer to change the rules of the conservation program to release land into production."
    • "CRP lands are also the subject of a legal dispute playing out in federal court in Seattle. This week, a federal judge there sided with the National Wildlife Federation and issued a temporary restraining order against the USDA to stop an earlier initiative that allowed limited grazing and haying on CRP lands."

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