FAQ: USDA said a couple weeks ago it would accept 3.9 million acres into its Conservation Reserve Program which pays farmers for taking environmentally sensitive land out of production. Landowners offered more than 4.5 million acres of land nationwide. I was surprised that much land was offered by landowners for this latest general sign-up, as corn and soybean prices are so high. How do you explain those results?
Answer: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on May 25 announced USDA will accept 3.9 million acres offered under the 43rd Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up that just ended. During the extended five-week signup, USDA received nearly 48,000 offers on more than 4.5 million acres of land nationwide, demonstrating the CRP's continuing leadership as one of our nation's most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land and improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources. Since Vilsack has been secretary, USDA has now enrolled nearly 12 million acres in the CRP since 2009. Currently, there are more than 29.6 million acres enrolled on more than 736,000 contracts.
"For more than 25 years, lands in CRP have helped to support strong incomes for our farmers and ranchers and produce good middle-class jobs throughout the country related to outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing," said Vilsack. "As the commodities produced by our farmers and ranchers continue to perform strongly in the marketplace—supporting 1 out of every 12 jobs here in the U.S.—it is no surprise that American producers also recognize the importance of protecting our nation's most environmentally sensitive land by enrolling in CRP."
Interest remains high in 26-year-old Conservation Reserve Program
Enrollment of the new 3.9 million acres will allow USDA to continue important targeting of CRP acres through continuous sign-up initiatives—including those announced earlier this year for highly-erodible land, as well as grasslands and wetlands—while also maintaining and enhancing the significant benefits that the program has already achieved.
Keep in mind this was the general sign-up, an opportunity that is periodically offered for landowners to enroll in CRP. USDA may offer a general sign up period once a year or once every couple of years. The other way to enroll in the CRP is through the continuous sign-up, which is a different option. You can enter eligible land in the continuous sign up at any time.
The two continuous sign-ups announced earlier this year will target an additional 1.75 million acres in total.
Difference between general sign-up and continuous sign-up
What's the difference between the general sign-up and continuous sign-up for CRP? For land to be eligible for the continuous sign-up, it has to in general be more environmentally sensitive.
For the first continuous sign-up program, USDA encourages landowners with land that has an Erosion Index or EI of 20 or greater to consider participating in the Highly Erodible Land initiative. Lands eligible for this program are typically the least productive land on the farm. In
For the second continuous sign-up program, landowners with sensitive grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat are encouraged to participate. The grasslands and wetlands initiative increases acres set aside for specific enrollments that benefit duck nesting habitat, upland birds, wetlands, and wildlife, and provides benefits for specific conservation practices, including new benefits for pollinator practices.
CRP is a voluntary program designed to help farmers, ranchers and other ag producers protect their environmentally sensitive land. Eligible landowners receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout duration of 10 to 15 year contracts.
CRP is voluntary program to help protect natural resources
CRP has a 25-year legacy of successfully protecting the nation's natural resources through voluntary participation while providing significant economic and environmental benefits to rural communities across the U.S. Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop 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.
Plant cover established on the acreage accepted into the CRP will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff in our nation's rivers and streams. In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds respectively.
The 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 $1.8 billion annually to landowners—dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. In addition, 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.
USDA selects offers for enrollment based on environmental benefit
USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index or 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. The minimal acceptable EBI level for this sign-up was 209. The average rental rate per acre for this latest general sign-up is $51.24 per acre.
"In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with over 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink and prevent soil erosion," said Vilsack. "We've worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, implement the Farm Bill, maintain a strong farm safety net and create opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency and resourcefulness of our producers. The CRP and other conservation programs play an important role."