FAQ: USDA has announced a general signup period to enroll land in the Conservation Reserve Program. What's the difference between the general signup for CRP and the continuous signup?
Answer: A four-week Conservation Reserve Program general signup will begin March 12 and will end on April 6, explains John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa. CRP is a voluntary program aimed at protecting the most environmentally-sensitive land. It offers annual payments to landowners to remove that land from row-crop production and instead plant long-term, resource-conserving cover, such as grass or trees, to control soil erosion and protect water quality. Contracts are for 10 to 15 years for land that is enrolled in the program.
USDA announces a general signup period periodically, perhaps once a year, but sometimes less often. The other way to enroll eligible land is to use the continuous sign-up option. You can sign up to enroll land in the continuous CRP anytime of the year.
To get land into the program during a general signup, you go through a bid process and compete against other bidders to gain entry. The amount of land in the general CRP is limited by government rules and the amount of money USDA has available for funding it. The continuous CRP, on the other hand, offers enrollment on a non-competitive sign-up basis. For land to be eligible for the continuous program, it must meet a different set of qualifications than is required for the general CRP. For example, land used for buffer strips next to streams can qualify for continuous enrollment.
Program addresses critical issues - soil erosion, water quality, wildlife habitat
"CRP has addressed our most critical resource issues for the past 25 years," says Whitaker. "CRP is a voluntary program to help farmers and landowners use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. In return, USDA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish that conservation cover on the land."
Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years, notes Whitaker. He adds, "Producers with expiring contracts and producers with environmentally sensitive land are encouraged to evaluate their options in the general CRP. Producers also are encouraged to look into CRP's other enrollment opportunities offered on a continuous, non-competitive, signup basis."
Currently, Iowa has 1,658,024 acres enrolled in the program; and contracts on an estimated 231,672 acres will expire on September 30, 2012.
Contract offers are ranked according to an Environmental Benefits Index
Offers made to USDA by landowners for CRP contracts are ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index. FSA collects data for each of the EBI factors based on the relative environmental benefits for the land offered. Each eligible offer is ranked in comparison to all other offers and selections made from that ranking.
FSA uses the following EBI factors to assess the environmental benefits for the land offered: wildlife habitat benefits resulting from covers on contract acreage; water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff and leaching; on-farm benefits from reduced erosion; benefits that will likely endure beyond the contract period; air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion; and cost.
"As always, strong competition is expected as landowners submit their bids to enroll acres into the CRP in this general signup in 2012," says Whitaker. "Thus, farmers and other landowners are urged to maximize their environmental benefits and to make cost-effective offers or bids."
For information on bidding land into CRP, visit your local FSA office
Over the past 25 years, farmers, ranchers, conservationists, hunters, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts have made CRP the largest and one of the most important USDA conservation programs, he says. The program continues to make major contributions to national efforts to improve water and air quality, prevent soil erosion by protecting the most sensitive areas including those prone to flash flooding and runoff. At the same time, CRP has helped provide habitat for pheasants, quail, ducks, and other rare species, such as the sage grouse, the lesser prairie chicken, and others.
For more information, visit a local FSA service center or www.fsa.usda.gov.