USDA will accept 1.7 million acres offered under the 45th Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today. The department received nearly 28,000 offers on more than 1.9 million acres of land, demonstrating CRP's continuing appeal as one of our nation's most successful voluntary programs for soil, water and wildlife conservation. USDA has enrolled nearly 12 million acres in new CRP contracts since 2009. Currently, there are more than 26.9 million acres enrolled on 700,000 contracts.
In addition to today's announcement, over the last four years, USDA has set aside significant acreage under CRP's Continuous enrollment programs to target habitat conservation on especially important lands. For example, in March, 2012, President Obama dedicated 1 million acres of CRP to Continuous Enrollment Programs to conserve wetlands, grasslands and wildlife.
This year, farmers and ranchers have already offered more than 370,000 acres under Continuous CRP signup, a figure that is impressive given that the lack of a Farm Bill extension last fall meant that CRP enrollment only reopened this spring in May. Lack of a comprehensive Farm Bill this year has resulted in uncertainty for achieving further enrollment objectives under continuous CRP.
CRP is a voluntary program that allows eligible landowners to receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of their 10 to 15 year contracts.
Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in fields and along streams or rivers. The plantings prevent soil and nutrients from washing into waterways, reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality, and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. In 2012, CRP helped to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields by 605 million pounds and 121 million pounds, respectively. CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduces soil erosion by more than 300 million tons per year. CRP also provides $2.0 billion annually to landowners-dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs.
In addition, CRP sequesters more carbon dioxide than any other conservation program in the country, and also reduces both fuel and fertilizer use. Yearly, CRP results in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.
USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors are: (1) wildlife enhancement, (2) water quality, (3) soil erosion, (4) enduring benefits and (5) air quality.