More than 100 organizations and companies have urged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to modify rules governing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to provide increased flexibility for producers to remove land prior to contract expiration in response to market conditions.

In a statement submitted by the Alliance for Agricultural Growth and Competitiveness (AAGC), 105 national and state agricultural trade associations and private-sector firms said there is a pressing need to change CRP rules. This year’s weather-delayed corn and soybean harvest, which is expected to reduce projected yields and crop quality, is yet another example of why more CRP flexibility is needed.

Under current rules, producers wishing to bring CRP land into production prior to contract expiration are required to repay 100 percent of the CRP rental payments received over the life of their contracts, plus interest and liquidated damages.

The AAGC called on USDA to create a more flexible long-term framework for the CRP under which the most environmentally sensitive lands would continue to be ineligible for early contract termination. But the groups said USDA should lift restrictions on producing crops on other, less-environmentally sensitive CRP lands to give producers the option to respond to periods of low supplies, as well as growing and shifting demand.

The AAGC statement was submitted in response to the USDA's request for comments as it prepares a new environmental impact assessment on the CRP and considers potential changes in its operation under the 2008 farm law.