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Ohio tenant farmer worried about CREP program rights
By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
Ohio Correspondent

WEST UNION, Ohio — Along the Scioto River, 70,000 acres are eligible for the Scioto River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), said Todd Brace, Ohio’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program manager.

That is causing some grief for farmer Terry Martin.

CREP is a voluntary program through which the FSA pays participants incentive payments and cost-share assistance for installing approved conservation practices.

FSA will provide rental payments for the life of the contract (14-15 years).

“The way CREP was originally interpreted,” Martin said, “I understood that the government was going to offer money to get this land, and they were going make an incentive to the tenant farmer and the landowner. What came about is, there are no provisions for the tenant to be eligible for any part of the payment.

“A lot of farmers like myself have equipment to farm this land and what the government is offering is 2-3 times the normal rental rate. A farmer can’t compete (to rent land) with prices like that especially since most of this is floodplain land.”

The program will cause Martin to lose about a third of the land he farms, probably 400-500 acres, he said.

“The land is going to be tied up for 15 years and you can’t blame the landowner for signing up if they’re guaranteed $150 to $200 an acre,” Martin said.

“If the landowner comes to a tenant farmer and says ‘this is what the government is going to give me for 10 years, if you can give me the same or a little bit more we’ll go ahead and rent it.’ But you’re talking about $200 an acre. There’s no way we can compete.”

Martin has a good relationship with his landlords, he said. His complaint is that tenant farmers were not involved in the program.

“If the persons involved in writing the guidelines had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in equipment, they probably would not be so quick to exclude themselves from government payments,” Martin said. “Especially when there is so much money allowed for the program.”

Yet there are two sides to every story. “The procedure in the Federal Register does provide for payments received in this program to be divided between landlord and tenants,” said Brace.

The Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) will ensure that producers who have an interest in the acreage being offered receive treatment that is equitable as determined by the deputy administrator of the program, Brace said.

“Tenant farmers should work with their landlords to perfect their legal right to share in future programs,” Brace said. “Tenants should be aware they will be held jointly and severely liable for CREP contract fulfillments.

“Program payment distribution, as recorded on CREP contracts is for the landowner and his renter to work out and that’s based on a personal business relationship. We want them to make their own payment share decisions.”

The FSA cannot approve a CREP contract if there is a dispute between a landlord and a tenant. If tenants or landlords believe they have been treated unfairly, they have the right to appeal, Brace said.

Published in the August 17, 2005 issue of Farm World.

10/26/2005