FAQ: I'm thinking about putting 30 acres of erosive land into USDA's Conservation Reserve Program. FSA recently announced the general sign-up period for 2010 opened August 2 and will run through August 27. Please refresh me on the program—how it works and other pertinent details. Also, what information do I need to bring to my county FSA office when I come in to sign up?
Answer: Provided by Vickie Friedow, state conservation and compliance program specialist with USDA's Farm Service Agency in Des Moines.
USDA has opened its Conservation Reserve Program to allow landowners to sign up to enroll environmentally sensitive land into the program. This can be land that is not currently in CRP or it can be land that has existing CRP contracts that are expiring September 30, 2010. The CRP general sign-up period for 2010 began August 2 and goes through August 27 at FSA offices in each county.
USDA was authorized by the 2008 farm bill to maintain enrollment in the land-idling program at 32 million acres. Approximately 31.3 million acres nationally are enrolled in the program, but contracts on about 4.5 million acres are due to expire this fall.
In Iowa, about 1.6 million acres are now enrolled in the CRP and about 116,000 of those acres have contracts that are expiring this fall.
Purpose is to protect environmentally sensitive land
The CRP program was created in the 1980s in part to reduce crop production and to reduce price depressing grain surpluses. But it has since become more focused on protecting environmentally sensitive cropland from being farmed and it is also focused on increasing wildlife habitat.
The CRP is the largest voluntary private-land conservation program, points out John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa. The CRP helps farmers, ranchers and other ag producers use their environmentally sensitive land for conservation purposes.
CRP assists in creating new wildlife habitat and enhancing water, soil and air quality by seeding the land in prescribed grass or other kinds of covers that can be established on the land that is accepted into the program. In return for offering the land for these soil and water conservation purposes, USDA provides CRP landowners rental payments, cost share for establishing the conservation practices and also provides technical assistance to help them establish the conservation practices.
Producers with land not currently in CRP who want to submit that land to CRP need to understand that the land must have been planted or considered planted four out of six crop years from 2002-2007. Producers must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to August 27, 2010.
Q: Following the sign-up period, how will the land offers for CRP be evaluated?
A: Offers will be ranked using an Environmental Benefits Index. Here's how the process works.
Eligible participants can sign up land into the program if eligibility requirements have been met. At the time of sign-up, you should be prepared to identify the specific acreage you want to offer and make decisions regarding the type of cover to be established.
Following the sign-up period, all offers for CRP will be evaluated and ranked using the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) for the environmental benefits to be gained from enrolling the land in CRP. The EBI consists of five environmental factors (wildlife, water, soil, air and enduring benefits) and a cost factor. Decisions on the EBI cutoff will be made after the sign-up ends and after analyzing the EBI data of all the offers.
Landowners notified of an accepted offer must provide a deed showing proof of ownership. Other eligibility forms may be required to be completed if not already on file. If the land is owned by more than one person, all owners must agree to enroll the land and sign the CRP-1 by September 17, 2010. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.
Q: What about land already in CRP but the contract expires this fall? If I want to re-enroll this land in the program or extend the contract, would this land automatically qualify for CRP? Or does it have to go through the EBI evaluation process again to see whether it can continue in the CRP?
A: Offers that would have met the previous sign-ups' EBI threshold are not guaranteed a contract in the 2010 sign-up. Also, you should note that contracts awarded in this new sign-up are scheduled to become effective Oct. 1, 2010. Crops are allowed to be removed after the effective date for new land being offered.
Understand there are two ways you can sign up for CRP—the general sign-up and the continuous sign-up. In addition to this current general sign-up period August 2 to August 27, 2010, the CRP's continuous sign-up program remains as an ongoing sign-up. Acreage eligible for continuous CRP is the most environmentally sensitive land, such as land that is enrolled as buffers of grass strips seeded along streams.
For more information on the general Conservation Reserve Program sign-up, contact your county FSA office or access the website at www.fsa.usda.gov.
If you have specific questions or need details regarding USDA farm programs, contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency office. You can also get news and information about DCP, ACRE and other USDA programs at www.fsa.usda.gov.
Two Iowa State University Extension Web sites have farm program information and analysis. They are ISU's Ag Decision Maker site at www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm and ISU Extension Specialist Steve Johnson's site at www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/farmmanagement.htm. And be sure to read the regular column "Frequently Asked Questions about the Farm Program" that appears in each issue of Wallaces Farmer magazine and at www.WallacesFarmer.com
Two Iowa State University Extension Web sites have farm program information and analysis. They are ISU's Ag Decision Maker site at www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm and ISU Extension Specialist Steve Johnson's site at www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/farmmanagement.htm.
And be sure to read the regular column "Frequently Asked Questions about the Farm Program" that appears in each issue of Wallaces Farmer magazine and at www.WallacesFarmer.com