Northwest landowners enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and commodity groups have been well aware for some time what was coming down the pike. Starting in 2007 and running through 2010, the contracts covering over 28 million acres of the total 35 million currently enrolled in C.R.P. will expire. It has been the subject of various U.S.D.A. listening sessions and forums. But now there appears to be a plan in place to reenroll or extend those soon to be expiring C.R.P. contracts.
JOHANNS: We are moving quickly to protect those twenty eight million acres of C.R.P. land set to expire by 2010.
And according to U.S.D.A. Secretary Mike Johanns, the plan will work like this. Those contracts with the highest level of environmental benefits, as determined by ranking through the Environmental Benefits Index, will be eligible for reenrollment. So for example, the top twenty per cent of contracted lands under the E.B.I. could be reenrolled for a period between ten and fifteen years. The next twenty per cent of E.B.I. rated lands would receive a five year contract extension offer, with each following tier then eligible for four, three, and two year contract extensions respectively. So how would the plan affect rental rates, one of the main concerns of land owners? U.S.D.A. Deputy Undersecretary Floyd Gaibler says his agency's plan on rental rates took a cue from public input.
GAIBLER: We had extensive comments with respect to the issue of rental rates, and particularly, in respect to whether they were competitive with local crop land rental rates, and some comments said they were not competitive and some said they exceeded the local rates.
The bottom line is that rental rates for reenrolled land contracts will be updated, while rates will remain the same for contract extensions. Another question that has come up is how this plan will change either the number or location of acres reenrolled or extended.
GAIBLER: Historically, there has been a level of drop out when producers are offered to either extend or enroll those acres. With respect to regional shift, we don't see these acres shifting in terms of any movement. What will happen is is that the areas with the national conservation priority areas will likely have more acres that fall in the reenrollment versus the extension category.
Land owners with C.R.P. contracts expiring in September 2007 should receive a letter from U.S.D.A. this spring discussing eligibility requirements for contract reenrollment or extension.