The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced that more than 800,000 acres were accepted into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) during the recent 49th CRP sign-up period. This was one of the most competitive CRP enrollment periods ever, with over 3 million acres being offered for CRP enrollment. FSA has not yet released any CRP enrollment data for individual states or counties.
Nationwide, there were more than 26,000 offers to enroll over 1.8 million acres under the General CRP enrollment during the CRP enrollment period earlier this year. Only 411,000 acres, or 23 percent of the total, were accepted under the General CRP enrollment, making this the most “selective” enrollment period in the 30-year history of the CRP. An additional 364,000 acres have been accepted in 2016 under the Continuous CRP, which targets the most environmentally sensitive land, and is not part of the competitive bidding process involved with the General CRP.
The recent CRP enrollment period also included a first-ever enrollment for the CRP grasslands program, which provides producers with financial assistance to plant approved grasses, trees and shrubs on rangeland, which can be grazed. There were a total of 4,600 offers, totaling over 1 million acres, offered for this new program, FSA accepted 101,000 acres for the first CRP Grassland enrollment. There also continues to be over 1 million CRP acres enrolled under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), including nearly 71,000 acres in Minnesota. The CREP program is a cooperative program, involving State environmental initiatives.
As of March 1, 2016, there was a total of just over 23.7 million acres enrolled in the CRP, which is down from nearly 27 million acres in 2013, over 31 million acres in 2009, and over 36.8 million in 2007. As of March 1, there were nearly 17 million acres enrolled under General CRP contracts, just over 5 million acres under Continuous CRP contracts, 1.1 million acres under CREP contracts, and 390,000 acres in the Farmable Wetland program. The maximum number of CRP acres enrolled at any one time has been reduced in each of the last two Farm Bills, with the 2014 Farm Bill setting the maximum acres in the CRP program at 24 million acres.
CRP contracts will expire on just over 1.65 million acres on September 30, 2016. This includes 92,409 acres in Minnesota, 99,645 acres in Iowa, 58,712 acres in South Dakota, 44,595 acres in North Dakota, and 22,885 acres in Wisconsin. Nationally, slightly over 2.5 million contracted CRP acres will expire in 2017, and nearly 1.5 million acres in 2018.
The bids that were offered into CRP for 2016 were evaluated using the environmental benefits index (EBI). USDA targeted the most environmentally sensitive land with the 2016 CRP sign-up, in order to reduce soil erosion, protect water and air quality and enhance wildlife protection and carbon sequestration. There continues to be special focus on buffer strips near rivers and streams. Following are the EBI factors used by FSA to evaluate the CRP contract offers:
- Water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff, and leaching.
- Wildlife habitat benefits from land covers on CRP contract acreage.
- On-farm benefits from reduced soil erosion.
- Air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion.
- Benefits that will likely endure beyond the CRP contract period.
- Cost per acre for the CRP rental contract.
USDA is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of the CRP program, and three decades of conservation success. The CRP program was developed as part of the 1985 Farm Bill and was established by USDA on December 23, 1985. CRP has been the largest and most important conservation program in the United States since that time. CRP continues to make major contributions to national efforts to improve water and air quality, prevent soil erosion, protect environmentally sensitive land, and enhance wildlife populations, Some of the benefits of the CRP over the past three decades that have been cited by USDA include :
- CRP protects more than 170,000 stream miles with grass buffers and riparian forests, which is enough to circle the world 7 times.
- CRP has prevented more than 9 billion tons of soil erosion since 1985, which is enough to fill 600 million dump trucks.
- Each year, CRP has reduced nitrogen runoff on tilled cropland by 95 percent, and has reduced phosphorus runoff by 85 percent..
- CRP has created nearly 2.7 million acres of restored wetlands.
- CRP helps enhance populations of ducks, pheasants, quail, and other wildlife species.
- CRP has resulted in the sequestration of an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, which is equivalent to taking about 9 million cars off the road.
- CRP provides nearly $2 billion per year to private landowners, which are dollars that help support local businesses and the local economy.
For more information on the CRP program, including the most recent enrollment data and information on the 30th anniversary of CRP, go to the USDA CRP website.