232-1 The Conservation Reserve Program: A Program to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change.

See more from this Division: S06 Soil & Water Management & Conservation
See more from this Session: Conservation Practices to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change: I
Tuesday, November 2, 2010: 8:15 AM
Long Beach Convention Center, Room 102A, First Floor
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Ronald Follett, USDA, ARS Soil Plant Nutrient Research Unit, Fort Collins, CO and Carolyn Olson, Office of the Deputy Chief SSRA, Washington, DC
In the early 1970ís, producers, encouraged by foreign demand, higher domestic grain prices, and federal easing of production set-asides, had converted nearly 8.9 million acres of previously idled land to cropland, at least half of which had inadequate conservation practices and resulted in severe soil degradation. This nearly unprecedented period of land conversion created more attention to soil erosion, and concurrent soil organic matter losses than perhaps that from the worst of the 1930ís Dust Bowl years. The renewed national focus on soil conservation resulted in the Soil and Water Conservation Act (RCA) of 1977 that gave USDA the authority to assess conservation conditions in a quantitative manner. Lessons learned from the 1970ís were the strong need for responsible soil-conservation policies at the national level and that suspension of government programs supporting soil conservation and prevention of soil degradation can result in rapid loss of the associated economic and societal co-benefits. The 1985 Farm Bill provided key legislative authority to implement a nationwide Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As a result, over 12.4 million ha of highly erodible and fragile lands were initially enrolled in the CRP. Besides its soil conservation benefits, the CRP helped remove millions of tons carbon as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it as soil organic C (SOC). The CRP program explicitly identifies SOC sequestration as a factor for enrollment selection of the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) as a subcategory criterion factor under ďAir Quality Benefits from Reduced Wind ErosionĒ. Enhanced soil C stocks have multiple co-benefits and thus SOC sequestration could be included as a criterion in virtually all the EBI categories. Nationally, nearly 75% of CRP contracts, exclusive of permitted re-enrollments and extensions are scheduled to expire between 2010 and 2015 and an additional 21% by 2020. Of the current national total of 12.55 million ha of land enrolled in the CRP, contracts on nearly 30% are expected to expire by the end of 2011 alone. The multiple co-benefits, including mitigating climate change effects resulting from sequestered SOC will likely decrease substantially. Accumulated benefits from the past 20 years of the CRP have only begun to be measured. Whether lands under expiring CRP contracts will be treated adequately to maintain the accumulated benefits and how well they will be managed if tilled for annual cropping are important questions. Lessons from the 1970ís need not be repeated. Responsible soil-conserving government programs and policies in advance of the next nationwide farm bill are needed that recognize the importance of the CRP in mitigating climate change effects as well as the need to continue to support conservation and to protect the economic and societal co-benefits that have resulted from the CRP.
See more from this Division: S06 Soil & Water Management & Conservation
See more from this Session: Conservation Practices to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change: I