Idle Farmland Could Become Nation’s Largest Carbon Sink

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said Wednesday that its Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which compensates landowners to idle their farmland, could become one of the nation’s biggest carbon sequestration program on private land.

Some members of Congress  who represent farm states say work to reduce greenhouse gases could ultimately pay off for rural America, since some agricultural activities, such as reduced tillage, can lock carbon into the soil.

“Land enrolled in the (Conservation) Reserve will also reduce soil erosion by 400 million tons each year and has the potential to be one of the nation’s largest carbon sequestration programs on private lands,” said Robert Stephenson, acting deputy administrator of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, during a U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture subcommittee hearing.

Some 33.7 million acres are currently enrolled in the CRP, with land owners agreeing to idle their land for a decade or longer.  A 2008 farm law reduced the enrollment ceiling to 32 million acres. 

In his written testimony, Stephenson said contracts on 3.9 million acres are set to expire the end of September, “so there is some room” in the near future for new land to be enrolled in the program.

Contracts on 4.5 million acres are due to expire at the end of fiscal 2010, with another 4.4 million acres set for expiration in fiscal 2011 and 5.6 million acres in fiscal 2012, according to the USDA.

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