Boozman raises concerns about ‘legally questionable’ CRP contracts 

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pause its implementation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) sign up in a July 22 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

“I am concerned that USDA is preparing to enter into legally questionable CRP contracts covering millions of acres that will leave the farming and financial plans of thousands of farmers and ranchers in disarray if and when these contracts are ruled out of compliance with the authorizing statute,” Boozman wrote. 

USDA announced on June 14 that it would offer CRP rental rates that are 10 percent more than the maximum allowed by the 2018 farm law. Similarly, USDA announced a CRP grasslands minimum rental rate of $15 per acre, which is more than the national average pastureland cash rental rate. Boozman noted that the 2018 farm bill enacted statutory limits on the county average soil rental rates that may be paid under CRP based on specific percentages of the estimated rental rates. The statute does not grant the USDA any authority to establish county average soil rental payments that exceed these statutory maximums.

The CRP provision of the farm bill “was crafted through diligent and thoughtful input by both Senate and House members on both sides of  the aisle…which is why USDA's  proffered justification for ignoring the statutory maximum CRP rental rates is disconcerting and has dangerous implications,” Boozman wrote.
Adjusting rental rate payments poses a number of threats, he said, “including that rising farm rents will price beginning and limited resource farmers out of the market for productive farm land.”

Boozman said USDA should “cease and desist” from implementing any CRP contracts under these conditions “to ensure that the contracts offered and entered into under CRP are consistent with the law” and to “avoid legal entanglements and financial disruptions that will befall CRP participants and the related agriculture markets if these contracts are declared invalid.”

When USDA announced its changes to CRP rental rates in June, NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert issued a statement noting that Congress established the maximum CRP rental rate levels to help ensure CRP is targeting marginal farmland and not competing with farmers for productive farmland. Seyfert also highlighted market concerns that stem from idling productive farmland. 

“Programs that increase acreage idling in the United States weaken our food and agricultural supply chains and send market signals to competitors to plant more acres, resulting in negative climate and environmental impacts,” Seyfert noted.