Conservation Reserve Program:

Cost-Effectiveness Is Uncertain

RCED-93-132: Published: Mar 26, 1993. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to determine whether CRP balances the cost of the land enrolled and the environmental benefits received; and (2) other USDA conservation initiatives designed to reduce the environmental impact on agriculture.

GAO found that: (1) USDA has not quantified how the removal of land from agricultural production affects the environment; (2) CRP protection is temporary, since USDA can return land to production after 10 years; (3) CRP costs are higher than other conservation program costs, because USDA has increased the costs of CRP rental payments; (4) CRP has reduced erosion, decreased sedimentation in reservoirs and streams, protected natural resources, preserved the land's long-term productivity, and reduced production of surplus commodities receiving federal price and income support payments; (5) USDA needs to do more to address CRP objectives, such as enrolling the most erodible cropland and land contributing the most to water resources pollution; and (6) other USDA conservation initiatives cover more cropland acres, cost less than CRP, and achieve more sustainable environmental benefits by changing the land or farming practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.

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