"Farmers and ranchers’ interest in the general CRP sign-up has been very strong," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "This extension will give producers who are busy with this year’s planting season more time to sign up for this highly successful environmental program."

CRP is a private lands environmental improvement program that protects millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion, provides valuable wildlife habitat and safeguards America’s streams and other bodies of water. The 2002 farm bill authorized CRP enrollment up to 39.2 million acres.

Participants voluntarily remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production by entering into long-term contracts for 10 to 15 years. In exchange, participants receive annual rental payments and a payment of up to 50 percent of the cost of establishing conservation practices. Producers can sign up at county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices across the nation.

Current participants with contracts expiring this fall — covering about 1.5 million acres — can make new contract offers which, if accepted, will become effective on Oct. 1, 2003. All other contracts awarded under this sign-up will become effective either at the beginning of the next fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2003, or the following year, Oct. 1, 2004, whichever the producer chooses.

FSA will evaluate and rank eligible CRP offers using the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI), a ranking of environmental benefits to be gained from enrolling the land in CRP. Decisions on the EBI cutoff will be made by the Secretary after the sign-up ends and after FSA analyzes the EBI numbers of all the offers. Those who would have met previous sign-up EBI thresholds are not guaranteed a contract under this sign-up.

The general sign-up now under way is in addition to the CRP continuous sign-up program that is available on an ongoing basis for working lands. FSA has reserved 2 million acres for the continuous sign-up program, which protects the most environmentally desirable and sensitive land.

FSA is making a special effort to help enhance wildlife habitats and air quality by earmarking 500,000 of these acres for hardwood tree planting. Continuous sign-up for hardwood planting will start after the general sign-up.

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