Expiring CRP Contracts Raise Questions

Expiring CRP Contracts Raise Questions

On September 30 Conservation Reserve Program contracts will expire on 6.5 million acres nationwide.

FAQ: On September 30, 2012 Conservation Reserve Program contracts on a lot of land nationwide are set to expire. Owners will have to decide whether or not to re-enroll the land in CRP. As an owner, I'm wondering about land preparation for expiring CRP contracts. What is allowed by USDA and what isn't?

Answer: USDA earlier this year announced it will accept more acres into the Conservation Reserve Program. The program pays landowners for taking environmentally sensitive land out of crop production and seeding that land to grass or planting trees. CRP contracts are 10 to 15 years in length.

On September 30 Conservation Reserve Program contracts will expire on 6.5 million acres nationwide.

On September 30, 2012 CRP contracts on about 6.5 million acres of land nationwide are scheduled to expire, with about 231,672 of those acres in Iowa. Landowners have to decide whether or not to re-enroll the land in CRP. There are a number of questions being raised by owners regarding land preparation for expiring CRP contracts.

USDA's Farm Service Agency handles this program. Beth Grabau, public information and outreach specialist with the Iowa FSA office in Des Moines, answers the following questions. She is assisted by Vicki Friedow, program specialist with Iowa FSA. For answers to specific questions or more information on maintenance and management of CRP acres, contact your local FSA office. You can also go online to www.fsa.usda.gov.

Question: A recent general Conservation Reserve Program sign up has producers with acreage that was scheduled to expire on September 30, 2012, now making the decision as to whether or not they should re-enroll these acres. With either choice—to enroll or not to enroll--what are the participant's options to prepare

Answer: Options to begin to prepare land are available for both of these decisions, but with limitations.

For those producers who did re-offer expiring CRP acreage, in most cases, an enhanced seeding is needed. To complete this management practice, removing some of the existing cover will be required. The date the program participant chooses to remove this material will determine what action will need to be taken.

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Persons who chose not to reoffer and will be cropping former CRP acres can begin some early land preparation activities prior to the expiration of the existing CRP contract. However, participants should remember they must also follow a conservation plan/acceptable system if the expired CRP field is on highly erodible land, in order to be eligible for USDA benefits.

Before completing any activity, producers should contact their local FSA county office for more information on what activities are authorized.

Question: I've recently been notified that my offer to re-enroll some expiring CRP land was accepted with the last general sign up. With this acceptance, I have to improve the existing seeding. Since the land is currently in CRP, can I begin this work before the current contract expires?

Answer: In most cases, with expiring CRP acreage the landowner is required to enhance the seeding when completing the offer to re-enroll this acreage.

For new CRP contracts that take effect on October 1, 2012, removal of the duff may be needed (as determined by NRCS) in preparation of the new seeding is needed. After approval of the new contract, the producer may remove the cover according to the following dates. If the activity will be completed:

* On September 30 or before, CRP participants will follow the managed harvesting provisions with the 25% payment reduction applied.

* After October 1, the existing cover may be removed with no payment reduction because it is being done for reestablishment of a new cover. This removal for commercial use is prohibited.

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A written request to your local FSA office must be completed and approved before beginning any activities.

Question: I have a CRP contract that is expiring on September 30 of this year. I chose not to put in an offer to have this land re-enrolled. When can I begin preparing the land for cropping next year's crop?

Answer: It is important to remember that individuals who will be cropping former CRP acres must also follow a conservation plan/acceptable system if the expired CRP field is on highly erodible land--in order to be eligible for USDA benefits.

In preparation for a spring seeded crop, CRP participants may request to destroy the eligible acreage's cover before the expiration of the current CRP contract. This can only be done after the primary nesting season. CRP participants are permitted to apply chemicals to prepare the acreage.

Participants may mow CRP acreage before applying chemicals to prepare the acreage for spring seeded crops, if the mowing is conducted outside the primary nesting season. In Iowa the primary nesting season ends on August 1. Participants shall not hay, graze, or otherwise make commercial use of CRP acreage in preparing the acreage for spraying.

Destruction of the CRP cover by any other means than what is allowed is not permitted. Seedbed preparation is not permitted before the CRP-1 expires. There are no provisions to allow for installing terraces, or for installing tile to prepare land that is under a CRP contract for production of an agricultural commodity.

A written request, as well as an approved conservation plan from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRCS, must be completed and approved prior beginning any activities.

Question: I have heard the term, but what is FSA's definition as it relates to "commercial use" of the CRP cover?

Answer: Commercial use is defined as the receipt of any value or benefit from the cover that is removed. The CRP participant cannot keep the existing cover harvested for their own use, they may not sell it or donate it to others with the exception of a government, municipality or non-profit agency.

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