Another year is about to slip away, but before 2015 becomes 2016, two anniversaries are worth noting once more.
Both are 30th anniversaries, and both were and are significant for private lands conservation across America and the territories. The 1985 Farm Bill was in the news 30 years ago, and it included for the first time in history a conservation title. Like all legislation, that Farm Bill wasn’t perfect, but it represented real, bipartisan commitment to conservation. NACD was a big supporter.
Several enduring conservation programs were created, including Sodbuster, Swampbuster and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Conservation compliance was also part of that Farm Bill. All of these were designed to address immense conservation challenges. America became a model internationally in efforts to address these issues while it continued to build a bountiful agricultural system.
CRP, in particular, made a major imprint on our landscapes. This month, several conservation and agriculture organizations, including NACD, sponsored a 30th anniversary celebration for CRP in Washington, D.C. The all-day celebration included events at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Congress. NACD President Lee McDaniel, along with other producers in attendance, was recognized at a luncheon at USDA and at a Congressional reception as a farmer who participates in CRP.
How did CRP work? The average erosion rate on enrolled acres was reduced from 21 to less than 2 tons per acre per year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. CRP enrollment peaked at 36.6 million in 2007. Enrollment as of October 2015 was 23.6 million acres. Land that was previously in CRP has now been placed under conservation plans and is providing production, while sustaining the landscape.
CRP is considered a working lands program, and two components are especially targeted at working lands settings: the CCRP and the CREP. The continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) focuses on using practices like conservation buffers and grassed waterways to make significant environmental improvements on working lands.
From CRP and CCRP came another important working lands program, one that combines federal support with state and local matches. The strength of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was this partnership approach and the ability to address local, state and regional conservation concerns as determined at those levels. It also served as a model for future partnerships and the concept of targeted landscape-scale conservation.
To this day, states are using CREP for the good of conservation. This month, Minnesota submitted a $795 million proposal to USDA for a CREP in that state. The state’s conservation districts are a big piece of the proposal, working with local Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff.
Together, CCRP and CREP are painting conservation practices on more than six million acres across the country today, according to FSA. They are reducing soil erosion, building soil health, addressing water quality and quantity concerns, protecting air quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and helping America’s working lands stay productive while producers practice land stewardship. And many of the conservation practices that provide the tools for these programs are part of soil health systems on working lands across the country. Soil health mainstays, such as reduced tillage and cover crops, are part of comprehensive systems that also include riparian buffers and other voluntary conservation practices recommended by conservation professionals.
It’s quite a scorecard for 30 years of work.