USDA has announced a new round of Conservation Reserve Program sign-up. CRP is a voluntary program that has a "general" and a "continuous" sign up period. For 2014 the continuous sign-up started June 9 and eligible land can be enrolled in CRP at any time with contracts of up to 10 to 15 years duration. John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa, provides the following update.
In lieu of a general sign-up this year, USDA will allow landowners with general CRP contracts expiring this September to have the option of a one-year contract extension. As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA will also implement a provision that landowners who are enrolled through general sign up for more than five years can exercise the option to opt-out of the CRP if certain other conditions are met. In addition, new grassland provisions which allow farmers to graze their enrolled land will enable them to do so with more flexibility.
Retiring farmers enrolled in CRP can receive extra incentives
Also new and beginning in 2014, retiring farmers enrolled in CRP can receive incentives if they transfer part of the land to help beginning farmers get started. USDA says this Transition Incentives Program, or TIP, provides two additional years of CRP payments to retired farmers who transition expiring acres in CRP to beginning, disadvantaged or military veteran farmers who return the land to sustainable grazing or crop production. TIP funding was increased by more than 30% in the 2014 Farm Bill, providing up to $33 million through 2018.
The CRP, created in 1985, pays landowners an annual rent to idle environmentally fragile land for 10 years or more. They are paid for establishing long-term vegetative species, such as approved grasses or trees to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. Currently, 25.6 million acres nationwide, including 1.5 million in Iowa, are enrolled in the program. For more information about CRP visit the FSA website or contact your county USDA/FSA office.
Funding availability for turning biomass material into energy
Implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill continues as energy facilities can now apply for the renewed Biomass Crop Assistance Program or BCAP, notes Whitaker.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on June 9 announced USDA will begin accepting applications June 16 from energy facilities interested in receiving forest or agricultural residues to generate clean energy. The support comes through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or BCAP, which was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
BCAP provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who establish and maintain new crops of energy biomass, or who harvest and deliver forest or agricultural residues to a qualifying energy facility. Of the total $25 million per year authorized for BCAP, the 2014 Farm Bill provides up to 50% ($12.5 million) each year for matching payments for the harvest and transportation of biomass residues.
BCAP matching payments will resume this summer
BCAP matching payments will resume this summer, while crop incentives will begin in 2015. Some matching payments will support the removal of dead or diseased trees from National Forests and Bureau of Land Management public lands. This will be turned into renewable energy while reducing the risk of forest fire. Agriculture residues, such as corncobs and stalks, also may qualify as energy-producing feedstock.
"Removing dead or diseased trees from forests to use for biomass production creates clean energy while reducing the threat of forest fires and the spread of harmful insects and disease," said Vilsack. "Increasing our country's production of biomass energy also helps grow our economy. Food is made in rural America, but fuel is made in rural America, too. This program is yet another USDA investment in expanding markets for agricultural products made in rural places across the country."
Resumption of crop incentive payments will be announced later
With the 2014 Farm Bill requiring several regulatory updates to BCAP, the resumption of payments for starting and maintaining new sources of biomass (Project Areas) has been deferred until a later date when the regulatory updates occur.
The USDA Farm Service Agency, or FSA, which administers BCAP, will begin accepting applications from biomass conversion facilities beginning June 16, 2014, through July 14, 2014. Information on funding availability can be found in the Federal Register notice at go.usa.gov/8FSH. For more details on applications and deadlines on BCAP, visit a local FSA county office or go online to www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.
BCAP was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The farm bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers, says Vilsack.