The Silver Lining – 25 Years of the Conservation Reserve Program

The Silver Lining – 25 Years of the Conservation Reserve Program


[music] Easterwood: Some of this
land is just suitable for pasture land,
and when they first came out here and settled,
they broke everything out, therefore we had
the dustbowl.>>In the 30’s our dirt
left here and ended up in the east coast… Castro: Once it’s gone,
your topsoil is gone. O’Rourke: As farmers we
started going fencerow to fencerow and the
habitat just went away, and so did
the pheasants. … Cawley: But farmers are,
of course, good stewards of the land, we care about it,
we’ve owned it, we’ve lived here for generations and
we want to do our part. [music] Block: The Conservation
Reserve Program is a major point
of pride for me… Vilsack: It gives farmers
options to take land that is environmentally
sensitive, and put it into a program that
protects the land, that prevents soil erosion. Wooden: And the wildlife
nest and then we like to leave stuff there for them to
have cover for the winter. Nomsen: Pheasant hunting is
actually a billion dollar industry out there,
so it’s a tremendous economic boost
to rural America. Johnson: I think the CRP
program is one of the best government programs that
is out there, period. [music] [music] THE CLICHÉ IS THAT
BEHIND EVERY CLOUD IS A SILVER LINING. THE
CLOUD IN THE 1930s WAS DUST – FROM FARMS THAT
WERE OVERWORKED AND UNDER-WATERED
AFTER YEARS OF DROUGHT. IN THE SPRING OF 1935,
ONE OF MANY BLACK CLOUDS ROLLED OVER WASHINGTON,
D.C., CARRYING TONS OF SOIL ON WIND-GUSTS
OF 60 MILES PER HOUR. THIS EARTHEN TSUNAMI HAD
STARTED IN THE NATION’S BREADBASKET SOME FIFTEEN
HUNDRED MILES AWAY. Bennett: These
wind-eroded lands… HUGH HAMMOND BENNETT,
THE FATHER OF SOIL CONSERVATION IN
AMERICA, WAS TESTIFYING AT THE MOMENT THE
WINDOWS DARKENED. HE SAID TO A
CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: Douglas Helms:
He said something like: this is what
I’m talking about. There, gentlemen,
goes a bit of Kansas. And later on he would
say that this had “considerable
educational effect.” And that would be the
acceptance of the idea that soil conservation was
in the national interest, and that the public,
through the government, could help pay
for some of this. [music] REPAIR BEGAN WITH
TECHNICAL HELP FROM THE U.S. DEPARTMENT
OF AGRICULTURE. AND AS FARMING TECHNIQUES
CHANGED AND RAINS FELL AGAIN OVER THE
STRAINED BREADBASKET, PRODUCTION RETURNED.
IN THE DECADES THAT FOLLOWED, FARM OUTPUT IMPROVED. MORE PRODUCTION CAME FROM
THE SAME AMOUNT OF SOIL. PRODUCTION, IN FACT,
OUTPACED DEMAND, AND SURPLUSES
BECAME COMMONPLACE. THE FIRST PROGRAM TO SLOW
PRODUCTION TO IMPROVE PRICES WAS THE SOIL BANK
IN THE 1950’S AND 60’S. FARMERS WERE PAID BY USDA TO
IDLE THE LAND, TO REST THE SOIL. BUT WITH TIME AND
NEW TECHNOLOGY, THE PACE PICKED UP AGAIN –
AND CROP SURPLUSES RETURNED. THEN CAME A WORLDWIDE
SHORTAGE OF WHEAT, WHEN SEVERE DROUGHT HIT CROP
FIELDS IN THE SOVIET UNION. Block: Well, this was in
the 70’s and the Soviet Union needed grain and
we wanted those exports. At the same time they said,
we’ve got to plant this thing fencerow to fencerow to
raise enough grain for them and our own needs. But
it was exposing more land to erosion because we
were planting more land. [music] AS THEY PLANTED MORE ACRES,
PRODUCERS ALSO BENEFITED FROM BETTER PESTICIDES,
FERTILIZERS AND SEED VARIETIES. YET, THERE WERE GROWING
CONCERNS ABOUT THE IMPACT OF INTENSIVE PRODUCTION
ON NATURAL RESOURCES. BY THE 1980s,
LAWMAKERS WERE FACING THE DUAL-PROBLEM OF LOW CROP
PRICES CAUSED BY OVERSUPPLY – AND PRESSURE FROM
ENVIRONMENTALISTS. THE 1985 FARM BILL INCLUDED
A PROVISION FOR AN OLD THEME, BUT A NEW SOLUTION: THE CONSERVATION
RESERVE PROGRAM, CRP. Glickman: While I was
in Congress during the 80’s we were always looking
for tools, quite frankly, to increase supply
management and even though the CRP wasn’t designed
as a way to bring down crop surpluses, it was
certainly an additive to the conservation
reasons that were very strong at that time. Block: That’s where I
came up with the idea of a conservation reserve that
would take the fragile, erosive land out of
production and then we can put the good
land into production. I believed in it from the
beginning, and fought for it. Reagan: It includes some very
good conservation measures… PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN
SIGNED THE FARM BILL ON DECEMBER 23rd, 1985. WITHIN MONTHS, THE FIRST
ACRES WERE ENROLLED IN CRP. Wooden: After the
program CRP came out, we found out that
we could put it in there and get a little
money off it. And plus, it’s just a benefit,
for the community. And it’s helped,
kept the air clean, and it kept dust
and dirt from blowing. FARMERS AND LANDOWNERS
FROM ALL PARTS OF THE COUNTRY BEGAN TO EXAMINE THE NEW
CONSERVATION RESERVE PROGRAM. USDA’S FARM SERVICE AGENCY
OFFERED FAIR-MARKET ANNUAL RENTAL PAYMENTS ON
CONTRACTS OF 10-15 YEARS. Easterwood: CRP
is a very good program. It’s a stable economy
for us as farmers. If we have it in CRP
we have something to fall back on when
we have crop failure. And we do have crop failures
because of drought in this area. It’s not something
that’s just given to us. We actually rent our
land to the government. We work on a
partnership basis. [music] IN SHORT, CRP WORKED.
FARMERS AND LANDOWNERS VOLUNTARILY ENROLLED SOME
32 MILLION ACRES BY 1990. BUT SOME OF THOSE
ENROLLMENTS DREW CRITICISMS. Block: Well, we had critics
from two or three directions. One of them was that the
farmers were being paid this money and the
farmers aren’t producing anything on it.
But I reminded them that with our farm program,
it did the same thing. So, I think the critics
were pretty well subdued. Glickman: And I continue
to believe that one of the great strengths of
the program was the bond, the alliance that it built
between the commodity folks and the environmental
and conservation folks. Through the Conservation
Reserve Program, the government puts its
money where its mouth is by helping farmers
make their private lands a public asset. And that
bond has been important, politically, during the
next five or six farm bills. IN SUBSEQUENT FARM BILLS,
CONGRESS ADDRESSED CRITICISM OF CRP BY REQUIRING THE
USDA TO DEVELOP SPECIFIC ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA. LAND
OFFERED FOR CRP CONTRACTS MUST PRESENT
AN ENVIRONMENTAL RISK, AND MUST HAVE BEEN
RECENTLY FARMED OR GRAZED. AND THE ENROLLMENT
PROCESS MUST BE COMPETITIVE. Miyoshi: We have
some marginal ground, so it was a good opportunity
to take that land out of production, put it
under full conservation, where there’s no
environmental problems, in fact it’s benefiting
our environment. TO MEASURE THE VALUE OF
LAND FOR CONSERVATION GOALS, USDA CREATED AN
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS INDEX. THE EBI EVALUATES HOW
ERODIBLE THE LAND MIGHT BE; WHETHER IT WOULD CONTRIBUTE
TO IMPROVED WILDLIFE HABITAT; AND HOW IT WOULD IMPROVE
WATER AND AIR QUALITY. ON LAND THAT QUALIFIES,
LANDOWNERS GET HELP WITH CONSERVATION PLANS FROM
USDA’S NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE: Morris: NRCS’s
role with the CRP program is to help producers
with technical assistance which means, basically
conservation practices, to install them
and to make sure it’s a successful program. Metcalf: Some areas
are planted into trees, you have some areas to
warm season grasses. Both of those
are very deep-rooted, you take a lot of nutrients
up with that type of vegetation. Johnson: This is a filter
strip with orchard grass. And of course in the
background here you can see the, you know, is our
cropfields, soybeans this year. TYLER JOHNSON FARMS NEAR THE
CHESAPEAKE BAY IN MARYLAND. MUCH OF HIS WATERFRONT
CROPLAND IS ENROLLED IN THE CONSERVATION
RESERVE ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM, OR CREP – A VARIATION ON CRP
THAT ENCOURAGES BUFFER STRIPS. Metcalf: Buffers are areas
along-side sensitive areas, wetlands and streams
and ponds that buffer the runoff and the activity
on the adjacent land use. A buffer is permanent
vegetation and it filters the runoff, and
protects water quality. Johnson: The filter
strips were the most economical for us.
That’s a CREP program now. It has taken out all those
wet areas, we’re getting the payment, we’re getting
all the conservation and the ecological benefits
from that and we’re, you know, now we’ve got more
places for rabbits and deer to live in. So, I mean,
it’s a win-win situation. Cawley: The Chesapeake
Bay has been declining over the years. The CRP
program is a cornerstone to us here in Maryland,
helping to save the bay. PROTECTING IMPORTANT WATERWAYS
SUCH AS CHESAPEAKE BAY AND OTHERS IS AN IMPORTANT
“SILVER LINING” OF CRP. ANOTHER IS THE CREATION
OF WILDLIFE HABITAT. Castro: We have some quail,
we have lots of rabbits. I mean, we just see lots
of wildlife all the time. As long as I own the land
I’m going to have grass on it, because of the
wildlife that’s involved, and I owe them a place to live
and have some cover for them. Wooden, Jr: And it’s
nothing to see deer or turkey, and it’s because
of the place they have to lay and nest and
raise their young ones, that’s why they’re here. [turkey calls] Kennamer: The wild
turkey is, of course, one of the conservation
marvels in this country. Around the turn of the
century there was about 30,000 turkeys left.
Now we’ve got turkeys in 49 states, every
state but Alaska. And it’s worth about
two billion dollars to the economy of this country
every year in the spring, just people going
out turkey hunting, either in their state
or in multiple states. [rifle shots] Nomsen:
It’s as simple as: if you add grass,
you have pheasants. And pheasants and other
wildlife populations literally exploded when CRP came
on the landscape in 1985. And in the fall, each
year, you’re going to see rural communities where it’s
hard to find motel rooms, the restaurants are full, the
fields are full during the day, and so it’s a
tremendous economic boost. [music] OVER TIME, CRP HAS BECOME
A PROGAM OF MULTIPLE BENEFITS: BY REDUCING
SOIL EROSION IT KEEPS DUST FROM POLLUTING
THE AIR – AND SEDIMENTS FROM RUNNING OFF
INTO WATER SUPPLIES. THE TREES AND GRASSES ON
CRP LAND SEQUESTER CARBON, THEREBY REDUCING THE
EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. THE RENTAL PAYMENTS HELP
FARMERS SURVIVE IN TIMES OF CROP FAILURE, AND THE
WILDLIFE HABITAT ATTRACTS POLLINATORS AND GENERATES
TOURISM AND INCOME FOR RURAL AMERICA. BUT IN AN
ERA OF TIGHT FEDERAL BUDGETS, WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CRP? Block: I think it’s
going to be around a long time, I would say, though,
that as we try to meet the demand for food around
the world, I think it’s conceivable that we will
see some of those acres, the best ones, put
back into production. But we can farm with
no-till so it won’t expose it as much to erosion
as we used to. Wooden: Right now, if this
had to be put into cultivation, it would do better than it
was when we was cultivating it because it
had that long rest. Vilsack: This is a
commitment that you have made
to conservation… CRP is an extraordinary
investment to make it easier for land owners to do
what’s right for their land and right for the
environment and for wildlife. Building greater
habitat and the economic opportunities that outdoor
recreation presents, it helps to improve the local economy
because these payments are, obviously revolving
around the local economy, all of that is an
investment in rural America, creating jobs and helping
folks stay on the farm. Miyoshi: Ethically
it’s the right thing to do. If you have some marginal
ground or a corner or portion of your farm that’s
more difficult to farm, it’s a very good marriage
to put CRP in there. You can receive at least
some payment – and these sanctuaries are
always used by the wildlife. Pierce: So I would
suggest to anybody that’s interested in the program
to come in and sit down and talk with the
Farm Service Agency and find out how
the program would fit into their operation and
certainly we are there to help them any
kind of way we can. Easterwood: This is
our duty, to be as owners of the land, to be
good stewards of the land, to maintain it for us, for
generations to come. O’Rourke: If you’ve got
something that’s marginal there’s no sense just
tearing it up every year – give it back
to the animals. Put it in CRP and
let it do some good. [music] [closing music]

5 Comments

  1. My CRP contract runs out next year and I didn’t get my 2019 annual rental payment. I have always gotten it in October. But not this year! And they don’t have any idea when I will get it!

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