More of Alabama’s cropland would be available for traditional farming activities under new legislation aimed at reforming one of USDA’s most well-known programs.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Representative Martha Roby, would make changes to the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to limit the government’s growing practice of paying landowners to set aside fertile acres of cropland in long-term conservation programs.

According to estimates by the House Committee on Agriculture, Roby's proposal would save taxpayers billions.

“Applying smart conservation techniques on marginal or eroded land makes good sense, but the federal government’s use of taxpayer dollars to encourage landowners to remove acres of quality cropland from agricultural production defies logic,” Roby said. “This is especially true in a time of serious budget problems and growing demand for food at home and abroad. This legislation would help restore common sense to our conservation policy, return CRP to its original purpose, and save taxpayer money.”

Congress established CRP in 1985 to promote conservation on highly eroded lands or other environmentally sensitive land by providing payments to landowners who convert it into a vegetative cover such as grass or timber. Over time, the eligibility requirements for the program have softened to allow payments for conservation on some high quality cropland. As a result, the government now sometimes incentivizes landowners to remove fertile soil from production.

Roby took an interest in reforming CRP after area farmers repeatedly raised concerns during agriculture listening sessions she hosted throughout the Second Congressional District. Roby, who maintains a 24 person Agricultural Advisory Panel that includes representatives from every county in the Second Congressional District, said CRP reform was the No. 1 issue raised in recent meetings.