Currently, about 30 million acres are enrolled in CRP; and contracts on an estimated 6.5 million acres will expire on Sept. 30, 2012.

Offers for CRP contracts are ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI).

USDA's Farm Service Agency (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.

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 in USDA's conservation portfolio.

CRP 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 increase populations of pheasants, quail, ducks, and other rare species, like the sage grouse, the lesser prairie chicken, and others.

Highlights of CRP include:

• CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and two million acres of riparian buffers;

• Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorous from flowing into our nation's streams, rivers, and lakes;

• CRP provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners — dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs; and

• CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

For more information on CRP and other FSA programs, visit a local FSA service center or www.fsa.usda.gov.