USDA Farm Service Agency data from 2007 supports what a South Dakota State University survey from late that year also showed: The producers holding nearly two of every three CRP acres in South Dakota were willing to put that land back into the Conservation Reserve Program despite attractive prices for crops.

The actual FSA data from 2007 showed a pronounced cut in CRP acres as producers took 17 percent of acres out of the program. However, producers also accepted contract extensions of two to five years and early re-enrollment on 62 percent of CRP acres for contracts expiring in 2007, otherwise the total would have been much greater.

SDSU economist Larry Janssen said the SDSU survey of producers from September and October of 2007 focused on re-enrollment into new CRP contracts, not contract extensions, but it came up with a very similar percentage of people likely to keep land in the program.

“There are general consistencies between what the survey showed and what the early records are,” Janssen said. “Our survey was focused on re-enrollment into new CRP contracts and just happened to show estimates of 63 percent of contract acres that producers were ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to re-enroll in a new CRP contract.”

Janssen said because of those two- to five-year extensions, it is from 2008 on forward that the actual re-enrollment rate for South Dakota becomes clear.

Professors Nicole Klein and Larry Janssen analyzed the data from the SDSU survey with the help of associate professor Gary Taylor, graduate assistant Emmanuel Opoku, and former graduate student Michael Holbeck.

The Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, began in 1985 as a federal program to take highly erodible and environmentally sensitive cropland and pasture out of production. CRP land is generally set aside for 10 to 15 years.

Janssen said South Dakota’s 17 percent decrease in CRP acres last year is substantial, and individuals or agencies concerned with issues such as soil conservation and wildlife habitat have reason to be concerned. But he said the SDSU survey of 2007 also gave clear indications that producers are carefully weighing options before converting CRP land to other uses. The survey showed that high prices for crops are only one factor they are taking into consideration. Producers with farmable wetlands that are enrolled in CRP often find it easier to leave those lands in the program, for example.

“The other part of the story is, of course, that even if land is withdrawn from the CRP program, not all of it is going to go into corn and soybean production. In some areas it’s going into grass,” Janssen said. “Here’s what our estimates were based on those who supplied details: 30 percent would be left in grass or go into native hay production, 61 percent would go into crops – the largest share of that would be corn-soybean-wheat mix, followed by corn-soybeans, then wheat, alfalfa mix, and continuous corn – and nine percent would go into a variety of other uses.”

Those land use patters in the survey tended to follow geographic patterns: West River producers in the survey said they planned to have 50 percent of post-CRP acres in grass, as compared to 18 percent grass in the North Central and Northeast, and 26 percent grass in the East Central, Southeast, and Central. West River producers planned to grow wheat on 21 percent of post-CRP acres, compared to six percent in the North Central and Northeast, and four percent in the East Central, Southeast, and Central.

Producers in the North Central and Northeast planned a corn/soybean/wheat mix for 42 percent of their post-CRP acres, compared to 25 percent in the East Central, Southeast and Central. The figure was only seven percent for post-CRP acres West River.

Producers in the East Central, Southeast and Central were most likely to favor corn and soybeans as post-CRP land use, at 28 percent. That compares to 19 percent in the North Central and Northeast, and five percent West River.