February 27, 2017
In fiscal year (FY) 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) enrolled a record number of farm acres into conservation contracts. To get a better sense of how and where the continuous enrollment option is having the biggest impact, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has put together an in-depth analysis in the form of our third “Special Report” (click here to see our first and second Special Reports on food safety programs).
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
Through CRP, farmers are offered a unique opportunity to engage with resource-conserving land practices on their farm in return for a cost-share and rental payment on these lands. These practices generally seek to conserve and improve soil, protect water quality, and provide wildlife habitat by establishing long-term cover, primarily grasses and trees, on highly erodible land or land in need of conservation buffers that has previously been in row crop production.
The Conservation Reserve Program
NSAC’s latest Special Report, Analysis of CCRP’s Record Breaking Enrollment, examines enrollment trends both over time and in 2016, including top practices and geographic variations.
Nearly one third of the acres currently enrolled in CRP have been enrolled via the continuous sign up. The majority of CRP acres are enrolled through the general sign up. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and Farmable Wetland Program (FWP), both of which are continuous enrollment options, make up much smaller percentages of CRP acres. The breakdown between enrollment options is shown below in Figure 1, which represents enrolled acres as of September 2016.
The 30 percent of CRP sign-ups attributed to CCRP equate to over 7 million acres overall. 1.3 million of those acres were enrolled in FY 2016, which makes FY 2016’s sign-up period the largest acre enrollment since the program’s inception in 1997. Figure 2 highlights how the continuous enrollment has grown over time. Our special report provides more information on the program’s evolution, including the rapid growth in popularity in recent years.
CCRP Regional Trends
In FY 2016, CCRP saw the most interest from farmers in the Midwest and Great Plains states; Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas were the top ten states by enrolled acreage. These ten states make up 66 percent of CCRP contract acres.
CCRP Practice Trends
Of all acres currently enrolled in CRP contracts, the most popular conservation practices (by total enrolled acreage) include: State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices; filter strips and riparian buffers, which reduce erosion and improve water quality; wetland restoration; introducing legumes and native grasses to improve soil quality; and duck, upland bird, pollinator and other permanent wildlife habitats. The most popular practices in FY 2016 generally followed long-term trends. Our special report further breaks down practice adoption over time and in 2016.
In FY 2016, roughly 1.7 million acres expired from CRP; 500,000 of these acres expired from the continuous sign up program and roughly 1.2 million acres expired form the general sign up. These high expiration numbers are reflective of the end of the contract period, and should not be taken to mean that farmers with expiring acres will not seek to re-enroll. Although farmers and producers are strongly encouraged – by FSA, NSAC, and other farm advocacy organizations – to re-enroll acres with critical natural resource concerns, many farmers will likely opt to return much of their land to production when crop prices rise.
Given the potential for thousands of acres of sensitive and marginal lands to exit CRP at the end of a contract period, it is imperative that FSA continues to promote CCRP as an especially useful re-enrollment option for farmers seeking to retain long-term cover on portions of their fields. To learn more about how CCRP performed in FY 2016, check out NSAC’s Special Report: Analysis of CCRP’s Record Breaking Enrollment.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment