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The Biden administration will pay farmers more money not to farm

The goal is to add 4 million acres of farmland to the Conservation Reserve Program, which takes land out of production to blunt agriculture’s environmental impact.

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would expand a program that pays farmers to leave land fallow, part of a broader, government-wide effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. The new initiative will incentivize farmers to take land out of production by raising rental rates and incentive payments.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was created in 1985 to incentivize landowners to leave some of their marginal land unplanted, a plan meant to protect the environment by reducing agricultural runoff into streams and rivers, preserving wildlife habitats, and preventing erosion. Today, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) “rents” about 21 million acres of farmland from landowners, typically for 10 years at a time—a tiny fraction of the total land farmed nationwide. In recent years, the number of acres enrolled in CRP has fallen, possibly because USDA’s rental payments have not been competitive with the open market, Chuck Abbott reported for FERN News.

The new announcement is a bid to incentivize farmers to enroll 4 million more acres of land in the program to total 25 million acres, the current program limit. “Sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release.

“A huge amount of money was essentially paid and then lost when those acres go back into farming.”

All told, the increased rental rates and expanded incentive payments—which pay farmers extra for growing buffer strips and promoting wildlife habitats—will increase CRP spending by about 18 percent, totaling $300 million or more in annual spending.

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