Organic Consumers Association

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3 Million Acres Taken Out of the Conservation Reserve Program

TRIBUNE, Kan. - Surveying undulating grasslands that disappear into the western Kansas horizon, retired farmer Joe Govert pointed out parcel after parcel no longer enrolled in a federal program that pays property owners not to farm environmentally sensitive land.

The arid, wind-swept ground stripped of topsoil by Dust Bowl storms has laid undisturbed beneath a protective cover of native grasses that took two decades to re-establish under the Conservation Reserve Program. But millions of those acres are being plowed again after the 2008 Farm Bill capped the program at 32 million acres.

More than 3.4 million acres nationwide were taken out of the program in September when the owners' contracts expired. Most of them were in Texas, Colorado and Kansas, but hundreds of thousands of acres also came out in Montana and the Dakotas.

The environmental and economic repercussions could extend beyond the nation's Heartland with a greater risk of new dust storms, soil erosion and water pollution. Farmers also worry more grain will mean even lower commodity crop prices.

CRP pays landowners not to farm easily eroded land, while splitting with them the cost of establishing vegetative cover. The goal is to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation in streams and lakes, improve water quality and establish wildlife habitat.

The program has created millions of acres of habitat for quail, pheasant, prairie chickens and other wildlife and established filter strips and forested buffers to protect streams, lakes and rivers from sedimentation and agricultural runoff.

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