The Biden administration announced on Thursday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow Conservation Reserve Program (DRP) participants who are in the final year of their CRP contract to request voluntary termination of their CRP contract following the end of the primary nesting season for fiscal year 2022. Participants approved for this one-time, voluntary termination will not have to repay rental payments, a flexibility implemented this year to help mitigate the global food supply challenges caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other factors.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality.
The announcement, designed to mitigate “global food supply challenges,” gives most farmers who choose to opt out a head start of about 4-12 weeks to begin preparing land for harvesting previously conserved lands since the applicable contracts are set to expire in late September regardless.
“Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine has cut off a critical source of wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds, and cooking oil, and we’ve heard from many producers who want to better understand their options to help respond to global food needs,” Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said in a statement. “This announcement will help producers make informed decisions about land use and conservation options.”
But the contracts expiring in September only represent about 4 million acres, or about 18% of the total conserved land under the CRP, according to a recent (FSA) report. It is also unclear what number of farmers will opt to begin harvesting their lands and opt out of their CRP contracts.
The CRP, first introduced in 1985 and reauthorized by the bipartisan Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, offers food producers the ability to conserve rather than farm their private lands in exchange for a yearly rental payment of $15-196 per acre depending on the land type. The federal government paid farmers $1.8 billion to conserve 22.1 million acres under the program in 2021.
While the Biden administration announced Thursday it would increase flexibility for opting out of CRP contracts, it unveiled an effort in Aril 2021 to double down on the program as part of its climate agenda. The Department of Agriculture, (USDA) boosted CRP funds by $330 million and said it planned to increase CRP land by 4 million acres, potentially canceling out its Thursday action.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the time, “Sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you. With CRP, the United States has one of the world’s most successful voluntary conservations programs. We need to invest in CRP and let it do what it does best, preserve topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the impacts of climate change.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted global food supply chains, causing already spiking U.S. prices to increase further, accord to research firm McKinsey. The crisis could remove 10-43 million tons of wheat and sunflower export production from the global market in 2023, potentially affecting 150 million people worldwide.
“The instability from the Ukraine-Russia conflict starts to create a whiplash effect in the food supply chain,” Daniel Aminetzah, the head of Mckinsey’s chemicals and agriculture division, said in April.
U.S. food price increases, meanwhile, have outpaced economy-wide inflation in recent months, surging 8.8% in March and 9.4% in April year-over-year, Department of Labor data showed. By comparison, total year-over-year inflation increased 8.5% in March and 8.3% in April.