DNR and the Conservation Reserve Program, and Farm Program

 Swath of Conservation Reserve Program land through cultivated fields

This swath of Conservation Reserve Program-supported land protects habitat and prevents erosion on a farm on trust lands in Grant County. Brent Billingsley, DNR

Two federal programs help DNR achieve sustainable farming on trust lands, and help protect the lessee farmers from some financial risk while encouraging protections for vulnerable landscape features such as draws, riparian areas and wetlands, and those lands prone to erosion.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program that helps agricultural producers safeguard environmentally sensitive land. the program participant’s—our lessees—plant long-term, resource-conserving ground covers to control soil erosion, improve the water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat. In return, the US Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance for protecting those public resources. The Farm Services Agency administers the Conservation Reserve Program, while other USDA agencies and partners provide technical support.

The Farm Program started with the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 and the Agricultural Marketing Agreement of 1937. it has changed over the years but has helped stabilize commodities production, offer assistance with farm and home management planning and technical supervision, and helped farmers get loans. The current Direct and Counter-Cyclical Payment Program (DCP) provides payment to eligible producers on farms enrolled for the 2008 through 2012 crop years. There are two types of payments—direct payments, and counter cyclical payments—both calculated using base acres and payment yields established for the farm. A farm’s base acreage and program yield are historical averages of crop production, and are used to calculate the farm program payments. Each participating farm has a unique base acreage and payment yield recorded with the Farm Service Agency for each of the commodities covered in the program.

The formula for both direct and counter-cyclical payments uses ‘payment acres’ equal to 85 percent of the base acres. The direct payment equals the payment acres multiplied by the payment yield and a fixed payment rate established in the farm bill for each crop. The counter-cyclical payment is similar, but uses a payment rate tied to season-average market prices. If market prices are low, the counter-cyclical payment makes up for the difference between the farm bill’s “target price” and the lower season-average market price. If market prices are above the target price, then no counter-cyclical payment is made.

Habitat is protected in this corridor of CRP-supported land.

In order to be eligible for the farm program and receive payments, owners, operators, landlords, tenants, or sharecroppers must share in the risk of producing a crop on base acres on a farm enrolled in DCP and be entitled to a share in the crop produced on the base acres. The farmer annually needs to report the use of the farm’s cropland acreage, comply with conservation and wetland protection requirements on all of their land, and use the base acres for agricultural or related activities. They also must comply with planting flexibility requirements, protect all base acres from erosion, provide sufficient cover as determined necessary by the county Farm Service Agency committee and control the weeds on the property.

Throughout the years DNR has participated in the farm program to varying degrees. This helps us implement the Department’s vision to leave a legacy of healthy and thriving ecosystems, and a vibrant natural resource-based economy while maintaining a valuable financial return to the trusts. It also gives us opportunities to use sound science, data and the most up-to-date information through the technical expertise of our partnership with the Farm Service Agency in the decisions affecting our management of state trust lands.

Tammy Yeakey, Farm Program Manager, Southeast Region