July 13, 1995

Congress is considering continuation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the 1995 Farm Bill. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) has released a background document “The Conservation Reserve: A Survey of Research and Interest Groups” for the debate.

The publication provides a summary of research literature on the CRP, a program to retire highly erodible cropland, and a detailed survey of 18 interest groups in agriculture, agribusiness, conservation, and the environment. It outlines three options for the program: renewal, termination, or modification.

“Bringing together materials from over 400 studies and the positions of those surveyed will provide policymakers with information relevant to making decisions on the future of the CRP,” said Jennie Hughes, a researcher at Colorado State University and coauthor of the report.


Research Findings

Participants in the CRP are pleased with the program because it provides income stability, decreases the need for credit, and in some instances allows farmers to retire early. Other findings from the research literature include the following:

  • The CRP has decreased cropland erosion, improved water quality, and increased land values and wildlife benefits.
  • Negative effects include some noxious weed problems and business fluctuations in some agriculturally dependent communities.
  • The cost of the program is estimated at $1.8 billion a year, or close to $19 billion over the life of the program.


Interest Group Survey Results

Positions of 16 of the groups surveyed are as follows:

  • All support a CRP renewal.
  • Groups recommend very different levels of acreage enrollment.
  • All favor multiple targeting.
  • All favor use of contracts while some support a mixture of short- and long-term land retirement options.
  • A majority favors economic land use options, of which haying and grazing is the most controversial.
  • All support more localized control of the program.

The groups surveyed were the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Farmland Trust, American Soybean Association, Ducks Unlimited, The Fertilizer Institute, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Audubon Society, National Cattlemen’s Association, National Cotton Council, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Grain and Feed Association, National Grain Sorghum Producers, National Pork Producers Council, The Nature Conservancy, Soil and Water Conservation Society, and the Wildlife Management Institute.

“The CRP provides benefits that many people would like to see continue. For the program to be renewed, however, it probably will have to cost less while still providing benefits people care about,” Jennie Hughes concluded.


Report Conclusions

  • If a modified program is developed during the 1995 Farm Bill proceedings, it will be less costly due to decreased acreage enrollment, will contain more effective eligibility criteria, and will decrease rental rates when there are allowable economic uses.
  • The program will address a number of environmental issues and will target program lands according to specific productivity and environmental benefit criteria.
  • The CRP will be most likely to succeed if design, implementation, and control are shared at national and local levels.
  • Supporters of a modified CRP will be recipients of environmental benefits, participants whose land qualifies for the program, and policymakers with constituents capturing CRP benefits.
  • Opponents of a leaner, more cost-effective CRP are producers who no longer qualify for the program, individuals who want to decrease government involvement in agriculture, and taxpayers who are forced to continue to pay the cost of the CRP when they do not think that the program is worthwhile.


The Conservation Reserve Program was created in 1985 to encourage farmers to retire highly erodible cropland in return for annual rental payments and a one-time conservation practice cost share payment. In 1995, CRP contracts began to expire. Given the size, scope, and importance of the program, Congress is considering its continuation in the 1995 Farm Bill debate.

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