Farm Horizons, October 2013

What is the Conservation Reserve Program?

By Aaron Schultz

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.

Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10 to 15 years in length.

The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

FSA also works with a number of non-profit partners to implement and maintain land enrolled in CRP and other FSA conservation programs.

Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, CRP is the largest private-lands conservation program in the US.

Due to voluntary participation by farmers and land owners, CRP has improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species.

In addition to contributing to improvement of the environment in multiple ways, those enrolled in CRP receive an annual rental payment for their enrolled acres.

FSA also provides cost-sharing and other incentives to help offset the costs associated with putting these practices in place.

How to enroll?

Participants can enroll in CRP in two ways.

The first is through a competitive process known as CRP General Sign-up.

General CRP sign-ups are announced on a periodic basis by the Secretary of Agriculture; they do not occur according to any fixed schedule.

The second way to enroll is through CRP Continuous Sign-up which offers on a continuous basis.

All enrollment offers are processed through your local FSA office.

To be eligible for CRP enrollment, a farmer must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to the previous CRP sign-up period.

Exceptions to this rule include:

• land acquired by the new owner due to the previous owner’s death;

• change in ownership due to foreclosure; or

• land that was purchased by the new owner without the sole intention of placing it in CRP.

General CRP Sign-up only occurs when the Secretary of Agriculture announces USDA will accept bids for enrollment.

General CRP Sign-up is competitive and offers are ranked against each other on a national level.

Offers made during General CRP Sign-up are ranked primarily on the environmental benefits that will result from the proposed conservation practices to be put in place.

FSA assigns each offer an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) depending on the environmental sensitivity of the land and the type(s) of conservation practices proposed for it.

It is this EBI that is used to rank offers against each other, and selections for enrollment are made from that ranking.

Factors contributing to the EBI include:

• benefits to wildlife habitat

• benefits to water quality

• benefits to the farm itself from reduced erosion

• benefits to air quality

• benefits that will last beyond the contract period

• cost (of both annual rental payments and cost-share to establish conservation practices).

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