May 25, 2012
On Friday, May 25, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) announced that it had signed contracts to enroll 3.9 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as part of its latest general sign up. The vast majority of these acres – roughly 3.3 million – will enter into the program as reenrollments as opposed to first time enrollments.
According to USDA’s press release, “the Department received nearly 48,000 offers on more than 4.5 million acres of land, demonstrating the CRP’s continuing leadership as one of our nation’s most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land and improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources.”
Before this general sign up, roughly 6.5 million CRP acres were set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. With the most recent renewals and first time enrollments, total program enrollment will decrease by 2.6 million acres, from 29.6 million to 27 million. This does not account for two recently announced continuous CRP initiatives – a wetlands and grassland initiative and a highly erodible cropland initiative. The two continuous sign up initiatives along with the normal continuous CRP sign up could increase total acreage by as much as another 2 million acres.
According to USDA, “Enrollment of the new 3.9 million acres will allow USDA to continue important targeting of CRP acres through continuous sign-up initiatives[…]”
While this is true under the current statutory cap of 32 million acres, it may not continue to be the case. The Senate version of the farm bill would limit total CRP acreage to 30 million acres in 2013. It would then ratchet the acreage cap down to 25 million acres by 2017. For this reason, NSAC is urging Congress to direct USDA to manage CRP to reserve at least 500,000 acres annually for the continuous CRP and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
USDA selects offers for enrollment in CRP based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors are: (1) wildlife enhancement, (2) water quality, (3) soil erosion, (4) enduring benefits, and (5) air quality. The minimum EBI level for this sign up was 209. In 2011, the minimum EBI was 221. The average rental rate per acre for this sign-up is $51.24. In 2011, this average was closer to $48; however, the rate differs significantly between states.
Visit NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill to read more about the CRP, continuous CRP, and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.