December 3, 2015
On Tuesday, December 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the beginning of the 49th Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign up. The general sign up period will last from December 1, 2015 to February 26, 2016. This month, USDA also celebrates the 30-year anniversary of the program, which Congress created in the 1985 Farm Bill.
CRP takes land out of crop production via 10 or 15-year rental contracts with the government, with grasses or trees planted in place of crops. When originally passed 30 years ago, the focus was primarily on reducing soil erosion and decreasing surplus commodity production to boost prices. Since then, however, improving water quality and building wildlife habitat have taken a prominent place among the program’s goals.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers CRP, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) overseeing land eligibility determinations, conservation planning, and implementation on the ground. State forestry agencies also provide technical support to farmers enrolling newly forested land in the program.
FSA enrolls most CRP acres during periodic “general sign-ups” like the one announced this week. Land is bid into the program on a competitive basis and ranked based on environmental benefits and cost. General sign-ups occur periodically, not necessarily every year, at special times announced by USDA.
CRP also has a continuous signup option, the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP), which pays farmers to install partial field conservation practices, primarily conservation buffers or wildlife habitat. Farmers and landowners may enroll land through the continuous sign up at any time rather than waiting for specific sign-up periods.
NSAC helped develop and champion the continuous sign up through changes to the 1990 Farm Bill and later through administrative reform initiatives that lead to its official launch in 1997. As 2015 comes to a close, we are taking a deeper dive into what CCRP looked like in fiscal year (FY) 2015. In the charts and graphs below, we detail the top CCRP practices and states and explore how the program is protecting water quality and wildlife habitat.
Continuous CRP in Fiscal Year 2015
Currently, 238,902 farms totaling 6.4 million acres are enrolled in CCRP. CCRP currently represents 28 percent of all acres enrolled in CRP. The continous sign-up includes both regular CCRP plus state-based Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) and a small Farmable Wetlands program option.
FSA approved about 755,000 acres through CCRP during FY 2015, compared to 530,000 acres enrolled in FY 2014. We are very pleased with this increase in enrollment, which marks the largest enrollment year since the program’s inception in 1997.
We completed a similar analysis of the CCRP program last year and there has been little change in the top states for CCRP enrollment by number of farms and by acreage since FY 2014. The top users of the program continue to be producers in Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
The most common enhancements introduced through CCRP include filter strips and riparian buffers to protect soil and water quality, and State Acres For Wildlife (SAFE) practices that support wildlife habitat.
Soil Erosion and Water Quality
General sign-up acres make a contribution to reduced soil erosion and improved water quality, but the CCRP targets specific practices and portions of farms to achieve high environmental benefits. Combined, these targeted practices and buffers currently represent 1.86 million acres or about 8 percent of total CRP. The following tables break down that acreage total by practice.
|CCRP current total soil and water practices in thousands of acres|
|Contour grass strips||61.3|
Wildlife and Wetlands
Currently within CRP as a whole, there are nearly 1.95 million acres of wetlands enrolled, about half from the general sign-ups and half from CCRP initiatives.
Within the CCRP, numerous program initiatives aim to enhance wildlife habitat across the country. These initiatives include SAFE and pollinator habitat, among others. The following two tables provide cumulative acres enrolled in these initiatives, which excludes land enrolled in CREP and includes contracts that start in FY 2017, adjusted for re-enrollments of expiring contracts.
|Top 5 states for cumulative acres enrolled into CCRP program initiative Pollinator Habitat|
|Top 5 states for cumulative acres enrolled into CCRP program initiative State Acres for Wildlife (SAFE)|
The total SAFE acreage allocation for the country is currently 1,750,000 acres, with 1,178,687 acres enrolled as of October 2015. The top three SAFE contracts with the highest allocated acres include 150,000 acres for Texas mixed grass in Texas; 137,300 acres to improve habitat for the Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse in Idaho; and 117,150 acres for the Gaining Ground for Wildlife initiative in Iowa.
|Practice||Acres Allocated||Total Acres Enrolled||% Enrolled Compared to Allocated|
|Wetland Restoration (Floodplain)||481,400||325,131||67%|
|Bottomland hardwood trees||250,000||124,301||49%|
|Wetland Restoration (Non-floodplain)||568,600||378,786||66%|
|Upland bird habitat buffers||500,000||223,042||44%|
|Longleaf pine plantings||250,000||154,724||61%|
|Duck nesting habitat||600,000||280,799||46%|
|State acres for wildlife enhancement||1,750,000||1,178,687||67%|
|Highly erodible lands||750,000||339,147||45%|
In FY15, around 1.4 million acres exited the CRP across the country, of which slightly more than a quarter was from the CCRP.
|Top 5 states for acres that exited CRP on September 30, 2015|
Roughly 1.65 million acres will expire from CRP in 2016, of which over 30 percent will be from the CCRP. Hopefully many or most of those CCRP acres will be re-enrolled, but each year some CCRP lands are put back into production.
It is important to continue supporting CCRP and encouraging farmers to enroll acres in the program so that the country’s most environmentally sensitive farmland remains protected. Interested farmers and ranchers can learn more about CCRP and application requirements in our Grassroots Guide and can check out a variety of CCRP success stories on FSA’s website.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment