NSAC's Blog

New Conservation Reserve Program Sign Ups Unveiled by USDA

May 29, 2015

On Friday, May 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made three announcements regarding the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): first, USDA will hold a general sign up from December 1, 2015 through February 26, 2016; second, producers who have existing CRP contracts expiring in September 2015 can extend their contracts for one year; and third, 800,000 additional acres will be available for enrollment in special wildlife initiatives through the continuous sign up. Unlike the general sign up, producers can enroll through the continuous sign up at any time.

USDA has not specified which continuous CRP initiatives will be used; however, the press release does state that the practices will be focused on wildlife habitat and wetlands. We expect the majority of the 800,000 acres to be enrolled through the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative and Duck Nesting Habitat initiatve.

The USDA press release quotes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as saying, “‘I encourage all farmers and ranchers to consider the various CRP continuous sign-up initiatives that may help target specific resource concerns. Financial assistance is offered for many practices including conservation buffers and pollinator habitat plantings, and initiatives such as the highly erodible lands, bottomland hardwood tree and longleaf pine, all of which are extremely important.'”

NSAC supports the addition of more wildlife initiative acreage, but also wants USDA to increase enrollments of conservation buffers with big pay-offs for soil conservation and water quality in addition to fish and wildlife benefits. In March, NSAC joined with other agricultural and water quality groups in a letter asking USDA to, among other things, set a goal of at least 800,000 acres a year for buffer and other continuous sign-up enrollments, up from about 500,000 acres a year in recent years. Some of those groups met with key USDA staff earlier this week to discuss potential concrete steps to make progress toward that goal.

Background in Brief

The primary purpose of CRP is 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. In exchange for cost-share and rental payments, farmers remove environmentally sensitive land from production and plant resource-conserving land cover to protect soil, water, and wildlife habitat.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) enrolls most CRP acres during periodic “general sign-ups,” through which 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, which pays farmers to install partial field conservation practices, primarily conservation buffers or wildlife habitat, on highly sensitive land. Farmers and landowners may enroll such land at any time rather than waiting for specific sign-up periods.

Unlike general sign-ups, there is no bidding and ranking; the land is enrolled automatically if it meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible practices through the continuous sign up include riparian buffers, wildlife habitat buffers, wetland buffers, filter strips, wetland restoration, grass waterways, shelterbelts, windbreaks, living snow fences, contour grass strips, salt tolerant vegetation, and shallow water areas for wildlife.

To learn more about these practices and what they look like on the land visit the NRCS website.

To read more about the types and locations of conservation buffers and wildlife habitat enrolled through the continuous sign-up, see our blog from earlier this year entitled Digging Deeper into Continuous CRP Enrollments.

For more information on CRP, including program basics, eligibility and application information, and program history, visit our Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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