Farmers have until Feb. 26 to apply to enroll in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program. USDA said it anticipates this will be one of the most competitive general sign-up periods in history for the Conservation Reserve Program, partly because of a statutory limit on the number of acres that can be enrolled in the program.
The most competitive applications will be those that combine multiple conservation benefits, such as water quality and wildlife habitat. Submissions will be ranked according to environmental benefits in comparison to all other offers nationwide.
CRP was re-authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which Farm Bureau supported. CRP provides financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to remove environmentally sensitive agricultural land from production and plant it with certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.
As of January 2016, 23.6 million acres were enrolled in CRP, with contracts for more than 1.6 million acres set to expire this fall. The statutory cap on acres that can be enrolled is 24 million acres.
In 2015, a record number of continuous CRP acres were enrolled, totaling over 830,000 acres. These high-value acres provide multiple benefits on the same land including water quality, wildlife, carbon sequestration and others. For example, the acres dedicated to pollinators have almost tripled to over 190,000 acres and support the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.
This record sign-up came after a May 2015 announcement that an additional 800,000 acres would be accepted for key natural resource enhancements. Since the May 2015 announcement, wetland restorations have increased by 77,000 acres, duck nesting habitats have increased 35,000 acres, and other wildlife habitat has increased 255,000 acres within the CRP State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement. Surveys have demonstrated significant increases in populations of upland grassland birds.
To find out more and to enroll, visit your local Farm Service Agency.
Photo by Dave Liggett