USDA will accept 1 million new acres into the Conservation Reserve Program from the CRP general sign-up that occurred in March and April, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Conner announced. He said current CRP participants also intend to re-enroll and extend contracts covering 13 million acres set to expire Sept. 20, 2007.

“I'm pleased to announce the selection of 1 million acres offered for enrollment under the Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up,” said Conner in a USDA press release issued June 6. “In addition, contracts covering 13 million of the 15.5 million acres set to expire in 2007 will be re-enrolled or extended.”

For CRP general sign-up 33, which ran from March 27 to April 28, Conner said USDA selected 1 million acres of the 1.4 million acres offered. USDA selected the most environmentally fragile of the cropland acres offered, ranking offers based on cost and the Environmental Benefits Index factors of soil erosion, water quality, enduring benefits, air quality and wildlife enhancement.

USDA's Farm Service Agency ranked all offers on the same basis and considered offers with an EBI score of at least 242 as acceptable for enrollment. The average EBI score for all offers this sign-up was 284.

Conner said the average rental rate per acre is $53.44, and will provide annual rental payments of $54 million to participants for the 1 million acres enrolled. This additional acreage raises the total CRP acreage to 36.68 million acres. The 2002 farm bill increased the authorization for the CRP from 36.4 million to 39.2 million acres

FSA received 22,990 offers for enrollment and accepted 18,140, according to Conner. Offers accepted under this sign-up will become effective on Oct. 1, 2006.

In addition, CRP participants with land set to expire in 2007 intend to re-enroll or extend CRP contracts covering 13 million acres, almost 84 percent of the 15.5 million acres set to expire.

The Farm Service Agency contacted almost 158,000 CRP participants with contracts scheduled to expire in 2007 beginning on Jan. 31, 2006, to determine their interest in voluntarily continuing in CRP.

FSA has posted tables showing state and county acreage enrollment data at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm.

FSA used the EBI at the time of enrollment to determine eligibility for CRP re-enrollments or extensions, giving additional credit for contracts within national CRP conservation priority areas.

FSA ranked individual contracts into one of five tiers based on the environmental benefits of the original EBI score. Eligible participants ranking in the first tier (between 81-100 percent) of the EBI could re-enroll their land in new 10-year contracts. Farmers and ranchers with wetlands in this top tier ranking were eligible for a 15-year contract.

Eligible participants ranking in the second tier (between 61-80 percent) could extend their CRP contracts for five years. Eligible participants ranking within the third tier (between 41-60 percent) could extend their CRP contracts by four years. Eligible participants ranking in the fourth tier (between 21-40 percent) could receive three-year extensions. Eligible participants ranking in the bottom tier could extend their contracts by two years.

The Conservation Reserve Program is America's largest and most effective private-lands conservation program, with over 36 million acres enrolled. Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams. The plantings stop soil and nutrients from washing into regional waterways and contaminating the air. They also provide habitat for wildlife.

Over its 20-year history, CRP has amassed a wealth of benefits for the United States, at an average cost of less than $49 per acre annually, according to USDA. Through April 2006, CRP has restored 2 million acres of wetlands and 2 million acres of buffers. CRP effectively reduces soil erosion by 454 million tons each year.

Of the 39.2 million acres authorized for CRP enrollment, CCC reserves about 3 million acres for special CRP initiatives that target the most pressing environmental needs. The initiatives are:

  • Continuous Sign-up — protecting the most environmentally sensitive land through ongoing enrollment;

  • Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program — targeting defined geographic areas through federal-state-private partnerships;

  • Farmable Wetlands Program — protecting certain farmed and prior converted wetlands;

  • Bottomland Hardwood Tree Initiative — planting trees that sequester greenhouse gases;

  • Presidential Quail Initiative — increasing quail habitat and populations; and

  • Wetlands Restoration Initiative — restoring playa lakes and prairie potholes.

For more information on CRP, contact your local FSA office or visit the FSA Web site at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/default.htm.