Conservation Reserve Program:

Alternatives Are Available for Managing Environmentally Sensitive Cropland

RCED-95-42: Published: Feb 21, 1995. Publicly Released: Feb 21, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO: (1) estimated the amount and locations of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other environmentally sensitive cropland that should be removed from production; and (2) provided information on alternatives for managing these lands.

GAO found that: (1) it could not precisely identify the amount of CRP and other environmentally sensitive cropland that should be kept out of production; (2) there are about 36.4 million acres of land enrolled in CRP, but by using buffer zones and other conservation practices, this amount could be reduced substantially; (3) reducing the amount of land enrolled in CRP would reduce federal costs; (4) allowing farmers to earn revenue from environmentally compatible uses of CRP land would also reduce federal costs; (5) CRP benefits would last longer if the program used easements to restrict land use for longer periods than the 10-year contracts CRP presently uses; (6) except for buffer zones, most CRP and other environmentally sensitive cropland can be in production without serious environmental consequences if farmers practice appropriate conservation measures; and (7) environmental benefits could also be increased through incentive payments to farmers to encourage them to adopt conservation practices.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, the 104th Congress adopted the matter for consideration to modify the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to focus on creating buffer zones instead of removing whole fields from production. Congress did not, however, include provisions to allow alternative economic uses of CRP lands or to use long-term easements. Action on these matters for consideration is not anticipated, as the farm bill will not be reauthorized until 2002.

    Matter: As Congress debates the reauthorization of the farm bill in 1995 and contemplates the future environmental objectives of CRP, it could consider modifying CRP to: (1) focus more on creating buffer zones, where appropriate, instead of removing whole fields from crop production; (2) allow alternative economic uses on CRP land; and (3) use long-term easements instead of 10-year contracts for any new CRP enrollments.


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