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The future of CRP at a crossroads

WILLMAR -- When the congressional "super committee" failed to reach an agreement on an overall deficit reduction plan, it also meant the demise of efforts to reach a quick but rather obscure agreement on a new farm bill. So the onus of formulating a new farm bill now returns to Agriculture Committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

With the exception of several disaster programs, most of the programs authorized under the 2008 farm bill will remain in effect through the 2012 crop year. But that should not distract from the importance of negotiating and reaching an agreement on a new farm bill as quickly as possible.

Ideally, a new farm bill should be passed by early next summer to allow farmers adequate time to learn what impact any new farm bill provisions will have on their farming operations before making any planting or financial decisions for the 2013 crop year and beyond. However, that could prove to be a tall order for a very acrimonious Congress, especially during an election year.

Many observers fear that negotiating a new farm bill could again become a politically charged process, much like it did when the 2008 farm bill was finally put into law following two presidential vetoes that were overridden by Congress.

Obviously, budget concerns will be a major driving force behind any farm bill discussions, which could result in some major changes in or even total elimination of some federal farm programs that have been in existence for years.

The future of one such program that will be closely watched by farmers, landowners, wildlife enthusiasts, environmentalists and the grain markets will be the Conservation Reserve Program.

Initially authorized under the 1985 farm bill, the Conservation Reserve Program has become the U.S. Department of Agriculture's premier voluntary conservation program involving private landowners.

Currently, there are 29.6 million acres enrolled nationwide, well below the 32 million-acre limit of the 2008 farm bill. When the program was created in 1985, the government was allowed to enroll as many as 45 million acres.

Speculation is that the new farm bill will likely lower the current 32 million-acre limit on enrollment. Therefore, whatever acreage limit Congress authorizes could be a major factor in determining the future of the Conservation Reserve Program.

Beyond formulating a new farm bill, other factors could impact the future of the program. One example would be the future use of the acres already under contract that will be expiring within the next two years.

Of the 29.6 million acres currently enrolled, 6.5 million acres will expire on Sept. 30. An additional 3.3 million acres will expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Together, approximately 33 percent of all the land currently enrolled will be expiring within the next two years.

Minnesota currently has 1.56 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Of those acres, 291,194 acres are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. Another 129,838 acres will expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Together, approximately 27 percent of Minnesota's acres will expire within two years.

Some of the acres expiring will qualify for renewal under the continuous sign-up provisions of the program. However, many of the expiring acres do not qualify for the continuous sign-up and would need to be reoffered during a general sign-up period.

Thus far, USDA officials have not announced when the next general sign-up period will be held.

Still another factor that could impact the future of the Conservation Reserve Program is what the grain trade often refers to as the "battle for acres."

High grain prices are enticing farmers to plant more acres to corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton. And land expiring from CRP could be a potential source of those additional acres.

The combination of pending policy decisions in Washington and pressures from the marketplace can only mean one thing -- the future of the Conservation Reserve Program is definitely at a crossroads.

USDA releases fertilizer and pesticide use

data on corn

During the fall of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture collected data on fertilizer and pesticide use for both conventionally and organically produced corn, upland cotton and fall potatoes.

The survey data consisted of 4,893 individual responses from producers in 25 states, including Minnesota, which together accounted for 93 percent of the corn acres planted in the United States in 2010.

The survey found that of the three primary macronutrients used on corn in 2010, nitrogen was the most commonly used. Farmers applied nitrogen on 97 percent of the planted acres at an average rate of 140 pounds per acre.

Phosphate was applied on 78 percent of the corn acres at an average rate of 60 pounds per acre. Potash was applied on 61 percent of the acres at an average rate of 79 pounds per acre.

Survey results also indicated that herbicides were applied on 98 percent of the acres planted to corn in 2010. Fungicides and insecticides were applied to 8 percent and 12 percent of the corn acres, respectively.

Glyphosate was the most commonly used herbicide, applied on 66 percent of the corn acres at an average rate of 1.065 pounds per acre. Atrazine was the second most commonly used herbicide, applied on 61 percent of the acres at an average rate of 1.034 pounds per acre. Acetochlor was applied on 25 percent of the acres at an average rate of 1.398 pounds per acre.

For more information on agricultural chemical use, visit USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service website at www.nass.usda.gov.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandi-yohi County.

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