GREAT FALLS – Higher grain prices appear to be the reason for a reduction in the number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, officials with the Montana Grain Growers Association said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency enrolled about 188,500 acres of Montana farmland in the Conservation Reserve Program during the latest signup period, the agency reported Tuesday. Contracts on almost a half-million acres were expiring.
Lola Raska, executive vice president of the MGGA, tells the Great Falls Tribune that more than 300,000 acres of cropland in Montana could be going back into production.
“We’ve been hearing anecdotally that farmers will take land out of CRP because prices are high and there are a lot more restrictions on the program now,” Raska said.
The reserve program pays landowners to keep their land out of crop production and seeded with grass to reduce erosion and establish wildlife habitat. There were 2.86 million acres of Montana cropland enrolled in the CPR program as of April. There are about 18.25 million acres of cropland in the state.
Ron de Yong, director of the state Department of Agriculture, said he’s not surprised that farmers are putting land back into production. “It’s a positive sign. The market is now good enough to compete with the CRP program,” he said.
Raska said anticipation of the trend is behind the construction of two new 110-car grain elevators in Chester and one near Nashua.
“This is good for the industry and for farmers individually,” Raska said. “We’ve been hearing all along that worldwide we need to double crop production to meet the needs of an expanding population. There is a lot more competition for Montana acres — the wheat industry, the malt industry, the pulse crop industry — they need acres and they are willing to buy them.”
Acres remaining in the CRP program are probably the type of land the program was originally set up for, said Chris Christiaens, legislative and project director for the Montana Farmers Union.
“The land that needs to be conserved will remain that way, and production on land coming out will help small communities and the businesses that serve those communities,” Christiaens said.
Kerry Upham, who farms west of Big Sandy, said he’s taking 2,100 acres out of CRP after the land sat idle for 25 years.
“We decided to take it all out because the reimbursement isn’t quite what it was, and now the price of wheat is better,” Upham said. “We’ll probably be more competitive with it in crop again. We decided it is time.”
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