_–Chad Love
Corn or conservation? That’s the choice many landowners are facing as record grain prices are keeping farmers from enrolling more acres in CRP, even with a bump in the prices paid for signing up.

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The current strong grain markets are likely to limit U.S. farmers’ interest in putting ground in the Conservation Reserve Program, even with a signing bonus increase — to $150 an acre from $100. In a move to get farmers to enroll up to 1 million new acres of land into the federal Conservation Reserve Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it would increase a one-time signing bonus for the program to $150 per acre from $100. The increase will be available only to owners of approved land that features wetlands and benefits duck nesting habitat and certain animal species, including upland birds, the USDA said.

But the increase may not be enough incentive to get more growers to forgo planting crops that have fetched record prices in recent months, according to Ohio State University ag economist Brent Sohngen. That’s because the offer comes at a time when high crop and land prices are enticing more farmers to put the land into production. Currently some 30 million acres are in the program, but 6.5 million acres are set to expire from conservation programs this fall. Sohngen said with crops fetching higher prices — soybeans increased 9.5 percent last month to $13.13 a bushel — more farmers are likely to consider returning their farmland to crops rather than participating in CRP.

Bad news for birds and bird hunters who rely on CRP acres. Let’s hope we hit that one-million-acre mark.