Potential Economic Impacts of the Managed Haying and Grazing Provision of the Conservation Reserve Program
Campiche, Jody, Dicks, Mike, Shideler, Dave, Dickson, Amanda, Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics
The Food Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 included a new provision that allowed managed haying and grazing (including the harvest of biomass), if consistent with the conservation of soil, water quality, and wildlife habitat, in return for partial reductions in the annual CRP payments. The legislation provided for managed (or limited use) haying and grazing on the CRP acreage rather than prohibiting all use. This research analyzed whether or not the alternative grazing and haying scenarios would dramatically impact the price of beef or hay, and we estimated the impact such changes would have on state economies.
Key words: Conservation Reserve Program, Farm Service Agency, managed haying and grazing provision
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The recently enacted Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 continues the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that was initiated in the Food Security Act of 1985 "to assist owners and operators of highly erodible cropland in conserving and improving the soil and water resources of their farms and ranches" (Dicks, Llacuna, and Linsenbigler, 1988). The CRP offers annual rental payments and cost share assistance to establish a permanent vegetative cover while foregoing all other land uses for ten years. The CRP protects critical environments, such as wildlife habitats and watersheds, while simultaneously reducing agricultural production on fragile lands.
During the early years of implementation of the CRP, the criteria used to select eligible acres considered only erosion and government commodity program payment reductions, with no consideration given to wildlife habitat conservation (Dicks and Reichelderfer, 1987). Consequently, introduced grasses and legumes (CP1) comprised roughly two-thirds of the CRP acres (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1989). Introduced plant species (not indigenous to the area) protect the land from erosion but may not support native wildlife. Some wildlife may use habitats comprised of introduced plants when native habitat is not available, but those wildlife species usually respond primarily to structure (i.e., height of grasses) as opposed to plant species composition. Conversely, some grassland wildlife species are habitat specialists requiring specific plant communities for suitable habitat (Dicks and McLachlan).
CRP was not the first land retirement program implemented by USDA to protect soils, reduce crop surpluses, control overproduction, and support commodity prices. The Soil Bank Act (1956) created a long-term acreage reduction program similar to the current CRP as well as an annual Acreage Reserve Program. Other short-term acreage reduction programs were included in the Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933), Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act (1936), Emergency Feed Grain Program (1961), and Food and Agricultural Act (1962, 1965). Important shortcomings of these programs for wildlife were the short duration of contracts, a planting date not conducive to providing winter cover, undiversified planting mixtures, frequent disturbance, and lack of technical assistance. For example, annual acreage reduction under the Soil Bank Program and Feed Grain Program was accomplished using one-year contracts that required participants to plant cover (generally in mid to late July). Annual land retirement programs implemented between 1961 and 1983 resulted in increased soil erosion and contributed to declines in some grassland-dependent wildlife (Berner, 1984).
Amendments to the 1985 Farm Bill in 1990 and 1996 sought to enhance wildlife benefits of the CRP. Legislative improvements sought by wildlife conservation interests included the establishment of an application review procedure that ranked applications based on their environmental benefits (e.g., proximity to wildlife habitat, diversity of seeding, use of native plant species) and recognition of coequal status of wildlife with soil and water conservation. …