Reserve program pays off for farmers

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Melrose farmer James Bostwick stands in one of his CRP fields. Bostwick has been farming for over 40 years and in the CRP program for 20 years.

Christina Calloway

Farmers in Roosevelt and Curry counties participating in the Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve program in 2011 received a combined $9.95 million in rental payments.

A voluntary program introduced in 1986, the CRP pays agricultural producers to turn environmentally sensitive crop land into conservation areas by planting native grasses.

This year’s four-week CRP general sign-up begins on March 12 and ends on April 6.

Curry County farmer James Bostwick said he has had a positive experience with the 14 years he’s signed his land up with the CRP.

“There’s been less wind erosion,” said Bostwick, who farms wheat and grains. “It was dirty and terrible and now it’s probably 85 percent controlled.”

Because the payments he receives from the CRP varies from the soil type, his payments average $32 to $40 per acre and have been consistent since he has been signed up with the program.

He is currently four years into his second-term contract with the CRP.

“The more fragile land has been able to stay in the program,” Bostwick said. “Wildlife is tenfold since the beginning of the program.”

Roosevelt and Curry counties received about 65 percent of the payments made to farmers in New Mexico in 2011. The state’s CRP annual rental payments for 2011 were $15.3 million.

Andrew Ortiz, New Mexico’s CRP program manager said benefits of the CRP are also economical.

“It also maintains the price of the crops that are being grown in those counties,” said Ortiz.

Combined, Curry and Roosevelt counties make up about 48 percent of the eligible acres in New Mexico.

“Eligible land is land that is planted or considered planted, to an agricultural commodity four of the six crops years from 2002 to 2007, and be physically and legally capable of being planted in a normal manner to an agricultural commodity,” said Ortiz.

The expected average payment this year is $35 per acre in New Mexico, but it can be more or less depending on the soils productivity according to Ortiz.

Ortiz said reactions are mixed about the program.

“Positive aspects most often mentioned were income stability for participating landowners, environmental benefits, and emergency haying or grazing during droughts, though some respondents felt opening CRP land depresses prices for individuals who sell hay,” said Ortiz.

Another benefit, according to Ortiz, is wildlife populations have thrived with the CRP, expanding recreation opportunities and creating income for local businesses.

“Negative aspects most often identified by leaders included contraction of the farm supply and service sector, and the CRP attributing to reduced demand for farm inputs as a result of land retirement,” Ortiz said. “CRP is seen by some leaders as contributing to the decline of rural populations. However, other leaders believe contractions in rural population would have occurred regardless of the CRP.”

CRP is authorized for a maximum enrollment of 32 million acres nationwide.