USDA this morning announced it will conduct a four-week conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general signup beginning March 12 and ending April 6.
CRP is a voluntary program for agriculture producers that is focused on helping them use "environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits." USDA continues to explain, "Producers enrolled in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion and develop wildlife habitat.In return, USDA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance."
There are currently 30 million acres enrolled in the program. On Sept. 30, 2012, contracts on approximately 6.5 million acres will expire. Another 3.3 million acres are set to expire Sept. 30, 2013.
These contracts last between 10 and 15 years and USDA again expects strong competition among producers to enroll acres into CRP.
These offers for CRP contracts are ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI), and USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) collects the data based on the environmental benefits for the land offered. The eligible offers are then ranked relative to other offers and a selection is made based on that ranking. Following is a list of the EBI factors that are used to ultimately rank these offers:
- Wildlife habitat benefits resulting from covers on contract acreage;
- Water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff and leaching;
- On-farm benefits from reduced erosion;
- Benefits that will likely endure beyond the contract period;
- Air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion; and
In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that USDA says "clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion."
USDA notes the following highlights of the CRP program, which it says is one of the largest and most important of USA's conservation portfolio:
- CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and two million acres of riparian buffers;
- Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorous from flowing into our nation's streams, rivers, and lakes.
- CRP provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners-dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs; and
- CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.
Meghan says: Currently, acreage allowed in the CRP is capped at 32 million and expectations are the next farm bill will see that level gradually reduced to 25 million acres. USDA previously has committed to keeping the maximum level of acreage in the program.