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Change in Federal Policy Frees Land for Beginning Farmers

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making a change to its Conservation Reserve Program. It’s aimed at freeing up more land for beginning farmers.

For 30 years, CRP has paid farmers to take marginal acres out of production and convert them to wetlands or creek buffers to protect the environment. If they canceled the contracts early, they were forced to give back all payments with interest. Beginning in January, they will be able to terminate the deals without penalty as long as they sell or lease the land to a new farmer. Aaron White is just starting out on a small plot near Carlisle in Warren County. He sees benefits in the program change.

“I think the biggest obstacle beginning farmers face is land access," White says. "This program would help alleviate some of those problems.”

White's father-in-law, Joe Dunn, farms about 14,000 acres outside of Carlisle. He says the change will help his daughter and son-in-law.

“It’s a lot easier if you own several hundred acres and it’s paid for," Dunn says. "Then you can rent out the ground for a higher price. That’s probably the big thing. Just the competition for the land.”

Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio
Joe Dunn, Aaron White's father-in-law, operates about 1,400 acres near Carlisle.

The change in CRP policy is the result of recommendations made by the Land Tenure Advisory Subcommittee formed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2015. It takes effect January 9.