U.S. seeks up to 4 mln acres for conservation

01/28 16:44 CST U.S. seeks up to 4 mln acres for conservation

1-28-2011 17:44 U.S. seeks up to 4 mln acres for conservation

 

* Land stewardship not a conflict with crop output-USDA

* USDA will keep Conservation Reserve enrollment high

* High prices make wheat plantings a market focus

* Ten percent of U.S. cropland is in the reserve

 

By Charles Abbott

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) – The government will keep

enrollment as high as possible in the land-idling Conservation

Reserve despite near-record grain, soybean and cotton prices

that brought calls for more food production.

 

Agriculture Department official Jonathan Coppess, who

oversees the reserve, said it does not harm crop production

because it focuses on lower-yielding land. With corn futures

prices at $6 a bushel, the profit-minded landowner “is not

going to put productive land into the program,” he said.

 

USDA said landowners can offer fragile land for enrollment

in the reserve, which makes an annual payment for idling land

for 10 years or more. Roughly 10 percent of U.S. cropland, or

31.1 million acres, is in the reserve.

 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the reserve protects

wildlife habitat and reduces soil erosion. He announced the

sign-up while at National Pheasant Fest in Omaha, Nebraska. The

meeting is sponsored by a sportsmans group.

 

Coppess said USDA expected to accept 3.95 million acres

into the reserve, which would nearly offset the 4.4 million

acres that will leave the reserve this autumn when contracts

expire. He said USDA will stay as close as possible to the 32

million-acre limit set by the 2008 farm law.

 

Enrollment will run March 15-April 15. Average rent is $55

an acre. The winning offers enter the reserve on Oct. 1, so

there will be no near-term impact on crops.

 

The bulk of the land leaving the reserve is in Colorado,

Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and Texas, all in the Wheat Belt.

The five states account for 45 percent of land in the reserve

and 60 percent of the 4.3 million acres enrolled in 2010.

 

USDA estimates growers planted 41 million acres of winter

wheat, the dominant U.S. variety, for harvest this year, up 10

percent from 2010. Spring and durum wheat plantings, which

usually are 30 percent of all wheat plantings, will be

projected by USDA in February at its Outlook Forum.

 

“The real focus will be on plantings this spring,” said

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber on Reuters Insider earlier on

Friday.

 

Wheat futures prices zoomed 47 percent last year due to

drought in Russia and its neighbors and were well above $8 a

bushel on Friday. Excessive rain damaged the wheat crop in

Australia early this year and dryness in the southern U.S.

Plains are added concerns.

 

A Reuters poll of analysts showed they expect high wheat,

corn and soybean prices to persist through 2011.

 

To see the Reuters Insider segment with Glauber and two

commodity analysts,  http://link.reuters.com/vyg77r

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