USDA To Boost Wildlife Habitat, Trim Cropland

The federal government will maximize enrolment in the land-idling Conservation Reserve, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a policy that would reduce U. S. cropland by 1.5 per cent if successful.

The amount of land involved, around five million acres, could produce more than 150 million bushels of wheat, 200 million bushels of soybeans or 700 million bushels of corn, based on recent abandonment rates and the Agr icul ture Depar tment’s projected yields for the three crops this year.

Growers planted 320 million acres to the principal U. S. crops of grains, cotton, oilseeds, hay, tobacco, potatoes and sugar cane in 2009, says USDA.

Some 31.2 million acres are enrolled in the reserve at present with contracts for 4.5 million acres to expire on Sept. 30. With the expirations, enrolment would be more than five million acres below the 32-million-acre ceiling set by the 2008 farm law.

Created in 1985, the reserve pays an annual rent to owners who agree to idle fragile cropland for 10 years or longer. Offers are examined for benefits in reduced erosion and improved air quality, water purity and wildlife habitat and the cost. Average rental payment is $53 an acre.

The Agriculture Department faces potentially large turnover in Conservation Reserve. Besides the 4.5 million acres in contracts that expire on Sept. 30, contracts on 4.4 million acres expire on Sept. 30, 2011, and 6.5 million acres on Sept. 30, 2013.

“It is my goal to ensure that we maximize enrolment – and holding a general signup is an additional step we can take to enrol acres in this program,” Vilsack told a sportsmen’s convention in Iowa.

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