This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Conservation Reserve Program, USDA’s flagship conservation initiative. The CRP is one of the most successful conservation programs in the history of the country.
According to John Whitaker, state executive director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Iowa, “Originally implemented in 1985 to address wind and water erosion concerns, CRP has done that and so much more. Continually evolving to address numerous natural resource concerns, CRP is a program everyone should celebrate, not just farmers, ranchers and rural Americans but urban dwellers, sportsmen and commercial fishermen. All are among the benefactors of this high-impact conservation program.”
Whitaker answers the following questions about CRP, its history and evolution. There’s more information online at fsa.usda.gov/CRPis30.
What is the significance of 30 years of the Conservation Reserve Program?
Although 30 years isn’t a long time in terms of historic recordkeeping, it’s a milestone nonetheless. We celebrate the positive impacts CRP has had on our natural resources over the past three decades. These benefits include significant reductions in soil and water erosion, reduced sedimentation in streams and tributaries, wildlife habitat development, pollinator habitat preservation and population enhancement, sequestration of greenhouse gases, wetland ecosystem preservation and the list of CRP conservation successes goes on and on.
How has CRP evolved over the 30 years?
The CRP was established in the 1985 Farm Bill and has been reauthorized in every farm bill since. In the early years, farmers voluntarily enrolled large tracts of marginal, environmentally sensitive cropland acres and converted those acres to permanent vegetative cover to reduce wind and water erosion.
Many of the original contracts are still in place in 2015 but today’s CRP affords landowners the opportunity to enroll smaller tracts of land and implement conservation practices that target specific resource concerns. For example, pivot corners can now be enrolled in CRP creating nesting habitat for upland game or grasslands under threat of conversion can be enrolled in CRP and still used for managed grazing purposes.
The, “menu,” of available CRP practices continues to expand. If a resource concern exists, odds are there is a CRP practice available to address the issue. CRP acres are under contract for 10 to 15 years. Landowners receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance for establishing approved conservation practices.
Who do I contact to learn more about CRP? How do I determine which CRP practices address my resource concerns?
Implementing CRP involves input from a team of federal and state agencies working together with conservation groups. USDA’s FSA determines land and landowner eligibility for CRP but no CRP contract is complete without the conservation planning and technical expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In the conservation planning process, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, state departments of agriculture, partner organizations like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and others are often consulted as subject matter experts when determining how best to meet specific conservation goals.
Are opportunities currently available for enrolling in CRP?
Yes, the following CRP enrollment opportunities are available now or will be available soon:
· Continuous CRP – Available now; no deadline
· State Areas for Wildlife Enhancement – Available now; no deadline
· Grasslands CRP – Signup began Sept. 1, 2015; Nov. 20, 2015 is application deadline.
· General CRP – Enrollment begins Dec. 1, 2015; Feb. 26, 2016 is application deadline. General CRP sign-up program participants who have contracts expiring September 30, 2015, and less than 15 years in duration, have the option of a one-year extension. Visit www.fsa.usda.gov/crp for program details.
What does CRP “look like” in Iowa?
Iowa boasts more than 1.4 million acres currently enrolled in CRP. To highlight some specifics: 100,552 acres of the state’s most highly erodible land are under contract: improving both water and air quality for Iowans. Nearly 80,000 acres are under contract for enhancing wildlife habitat for waterfowl, upland game, songbirds, etc. a benefit to sportsmen and outdoor recreational enthusiasts. And, an additional 190,000 acres have been enrolled in CRP with practices implemented to preserve valuable wetland ecosystems.
FSA hopes all Iowans join in celebrating CRP’s contribution to an improved quality of life. FSA offers a special thanks to Iowa’s landowners who voluntarily participate in the program.