The loss of lands enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program threatens to wipe out hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in Minnesota, the Dakotas and elsewhere.
Because of sky-high commodity prices, farmers have been pulling their acres from CRP so they can plant corn or soybeans. CRP has been acclaimed as one of the greatest conservation programs in history, yet now its future is in doubt.
Minnesota has about 1.5 million acres of private grasslands enrolled in the program, but contracts for 823,000 acres – a land area larger than Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties combined - will expire over the next five years. Contracts for about 300,000 acres will expire this year.
That spells major trouble for wildlife such as pheasants, ducks and songbirds, and it could impact soil and water quality
So Thursday, state and federal officials held a conference call for reporters. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Chief of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, Dave White, and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources Executive Director John Jaschke fielded questions.
“We are at a crossroads with grasslands in Minnesota,’’ Landwehr said. “The loss of CRP will have devastating impacts on prairie wildlife. We want to work with state and federal agencies, landowners and the conservation community to find a solution.”
White said the U.S. Senate may consider a new farm bill next month, but he expects a drastically reduced program. Still, he was hopeful.
“I think we can adapt through better targeting and precision conservation,’’ he said. “We have to be more creative.’’
Jaschke said the same thing: “In near future and maybe longer, we will have less (CRP) acres on the landscape. The challenge is to focus on quality instead of quantity, he said.