U.S. seeks to conserve more farmland as crop prices climb

The Biden administration hopes to convince farmers to set aside four million more of acres of land for conservation this year by raising payment rates in an environmental program, but farmers said surging crop prices make it a tougher sell.

The push to enroll more land into the 36-year-old Conservation Reserve Program is a part of the administration’s campaign to counter climate change.

In the voluntary program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pays farmers a yearly rent not to grow crops on environmentally sensitive land for 10-15 years as a way to prevent soil erosion, sequester carbon, reduce nitrogen runoff and provide habitats for wildlife.

About 21 million acres are enrolled in the program, below the Congress-set limit of 25 million acres. The cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023.

To entice farmers to add 20% more acres in 2021, the USDA is expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program, along with raising payment rates, the agency said.

“There’s always a balance, but it’s critically important that we continue to create a multitude of ways for land to be productively used,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Thursday.

Apart from environmental goals, conservation land can also generate rural jobs in outdoor recreation or construction, he said.

Source: Reuters