The Importance of the CRP Program

February 15, 2009 by  

By Robert A. Langager

 I grew up in Fargo, ND and Marshall, in southwestern MN. I have spent many autumns chasing waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of MN, ND, and SD. I currently reside in Durham, NC and attend North Carolina State University and am pursuing degrees in Watershed Hydrology and Wetlands Assessment. I hope to return to the PPR upon completing school to pursue a career in Waterfowl Management. I hope to provide you with some insight and information about conservational and environmental issues and how they affect sportsmen/women in North Dakota and nationwide. 
The Importance of CRP and WRP To North Dakota Sportsmen and Citizens

CRP Background Facts:

  • The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) encompasses 270,300 square miles or 173,000,000 acres. It forms what was the largest expanse of grasslands in the world (Ducks Unlimited).
  • Pothole densities in the PPR can exceed 181 ponds per square mile (Ducks Unlimited).
  • The PPR can support up to 130 breeding pairs of ducks per square mile (Ducks Unlimited).
  • The United States’ portion of the PPR has 4,171,000 acres of wetlands (Prairie Pothole Joint Venture Concept Plan).
  • In wet years, 70% of North America’s waterfowl population originates from the PPR.
  • Recruitment and nesting success depend on grasslands adjacent to the wetlands.
  • Increased grassland area adjacent to wetlands increase nesting success by decreasing losses due to predation.
  • The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is the most effective way to establish and maintain the necessary upland nesting areas that waterfowl need.

Most of us are familiar with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). They are part of the Farm Bill, which maps out our country’s agriculture policy. The Farm Bill is such an enormous and comprehensive piece of legislation that Congress only renews and amends the Farm Bill every five years. As some of you may know, the Farm Bill is up for renewal this year and part of the consideration is the renewal and, hopefully, expansion of the CRP and WRP programs.

CRP compensates farmers for taking marginal and highly erodable land out of production and planting native grasses and vegetation in the place of the usual production crops, usually in ten-year contracts. When the Farm Bill and CRP first came around in 1985 biologists and waterfowl managers recognized the importance of the Prairie Pothole Region to the breeding success of waterfowl and convinced the USDA to place the entire PPR as a Conservation Priority Area. This designation made all farmland in the PPR eligible for CRP, regardless of soil erodability. All of North Dakota with exception to areas south and west of the Missouri River is in the PPR. That is a lot of farmland that is eligible for CRP.

CRP benefits waterfowl and many other wildlife species by providing important nesting habitat. Waterfowl populations are dependent on only two things: recruitment and mortality. When recruitment exceeds mortality waterfowl populations increase and vice versa. Recruitment will increase if nesting success, the percentage of broods that survive, increases. There are many factors that affect nesting success. Many are beyond our control, such as weather and the moisture conditions of the PPR. Other factors are well within our control. This is where CRP comes into play.

When land is farmed right up to the edge of a wetland that birds are using for nesting, the birds have a very limited area around that wetland in which to build their nests. This narrow strip of grassland around the wetland makes it very easy for predators to locate and destroy the nests, thus reducing waterfowl recruitment and brood success. The CRP program allows for large areas of grasslands around these wetlands, thus making it harder for them to find nesting waterfowl.

Waterfowl are not the only species that benefit from the CRP and WRP program. You pheasant hunters out there know all about that. Pheasant and other upland birds are flourishing in these new expanses of native prairie. In fact, there aren’t any species that I can think of, that do not benefit from having the additional grasslands for food, breeding habitat, and cover.

The economic benefits the CRP program far outweigh the costs. Taking marginal lands out of production decreases agricultural production and therefore raises crop prices. The income coming to the farmers in the form of increased crop prices and CRP payments benefit the farmer’s local economies. Increases in habitat bring about growth in wildlife populations that bring in more money from wildlife-based activities such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, and so forth. This, in turn, benefits local economies by boosting their tourism dollars.

There are other, less tangible, economic benefits from CRP and WRP programs. Factors such as improved soil, air, and water quality are difficult to put a price tag on. Improved soil quality will, however, boost crop production. North Dakotans have felt the pains of the flooding of the last ten years. CRP and WRP programs have helped to alleviate some of the flood damage by holding back some of the runoff that causes these floods. Increases in these programs can only help to expand these important benefits.

I have tried to touch upon some if the general benefits of these federal programs and how they relate to not only sportsmen, but also the general public as well. The benefits are not limited to farmers and hunters only, but to all who live in this great state. As we speak the future of the CRP and WRP programs are in the hands of our elected officials in Washington DC as they debate the next Farm Bill. There is powerful agribusiness lobbies that would rather see these funds spent on programs that they would gain more profit from. Please take the time to contact your congressman and voice your support of the continuation and expansion of these programs.

Here are the articles I have cited that you may enjoy if you would like to read more about this issue:

Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2000. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Resource Economics Division.

Feather, P., et al. 1999. Economic Valuation of Environmental Benefits and the Targeting of Conservation Programs: The Case of the CRP. Ag Econ report 778

Heimlich, R., K. Wiebe, R. Claassen, D. Gadsby, and R. House. Wetlands and Agriculture Private Interests and Public Benefits. Eco. Res. Serv., U.S. Dept. Agr. Agric. Econ. Rpt. No. 765. September 1998.

Ducks Unlimited Conservation Plan,


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