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Future of the Conservation Reserve Program


In 2013, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is celebrating its 27th anniversary, and over two and a half decades of conservation success. CRP was originally established in the 1985 Farm Bill, and today has over 390,000 landowners participating, most of which are farmers and ranchers, and currently has just over 27.0 million acres under some-type of CRP contracts. Another general CRP sign-up will be held in 2013, from May 20 through June 14, at local FSA offices.

The USDA has cited the CRP program as the largest and most important conservation program in recent decades in this country. CRP continues to make major contributions to national efforts to improve water and air quality, prevent soil erosion, protect environmentally sensitive land, and enhance wildlife populations. Some of the benefits of the CRP program over the past two and a half decades cited by USDA include:

  • 450 million tons of soil erosion reduced annually
  • Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into rivers, streams and lakes in the U.S.
  • 2 million acres of wetlands and buffers restored
  • 2 million acres of stream bank protected along rivers and streams
  • Enhanced populations of ducks, pheasants, quail and other wildlife species
  • CRP provides over $1.8 billion/year to private landowners, which are dollars that help support local businesses and the local economy
  • CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the U.S. In 2012, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 9 million cars off the road
  • There are currently 45 Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) in 33 states in targeted watersheds, which has generated over $ 1 billion in additional State and private funds for Federal conservation efforts through CRP

There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the level of acres will be offered or accepted for re-enrollment into the CRP program during the 2013 sign-up period. The current CRP acreage cap is 32 million acres, which was set by the 2008 Farm Bill, which was a reduction from the maximum CRP acreage in the U.S. of 39 million acres from 2002-2008. The 32-million-acre CRP cap was maintained for 2013, due to the farm bill extension that was passed by Congress earlier this year, and signed by President Obama. Both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House Agriculture Committee versions of a new farm bill that were passed in 2012 called for the maximum level of CRP acreage to be reduced down to 25 million acres for the next five years. Most likely, when the next farm bill is reconsidered later this year, the maximum CRP acreage will stay near 25 million acres.

General CRP contracts are usually 10-year contracts that expire Sept. 30 in a given year, while Continuous CRP contracts and CREP contracts are usually 10-15-year contracts also expiring on Sept. 30 of a given year. Following are the expiring CRP acres on September 30th each year for the next five years:

  • 2013 – 3.3 million acres
  • 2014 – 2.0 million acres
  • 2015 – 1.7 million acres
  • 2016 – 1.2 million acres
  • 2017 – 2.6 million acres

Over 70% of the CRP acres in the U.S. are in 11 states: Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Washington, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois and South Dakota. In recent years a larger percentage of acres from expiring CRP contracts have been returned back to production in the Upper Midwest and Plains states, compared to other areas of the U.S. In 2012, over 3.2 million acres of expiring CRP land was returned back to crop production, with over with over 10 million acres being returned to crop production since 2009.

The CRP program is likely to be a key focal point during the development of the next farm bill in the coming months. In an era when the Congress and the administration are looking to reduce the federal budget deficit, there will be pressure to reduce the current annual expenditure of just over $2.0 billion on the CRP program, including about $1.7 billion on annual rental payments. Keeping CRP acres enrolled in future years in Midwestern states, where the average land rental rates have increased dramatically in recent years, will likely be much more expensive for USDA. There are others that feel we need to reduce CRP acreage in the future due to need for expanded U.S. grain production to meet the demand for World food needs, and for increased renewable energy production in the U.S.

The CRP program remains extremely popular with many farm, wildlife and environmental organizations, as well as with members of Congress. The bottom-line is that the CRP program has twenty-seven years of success in protecting sensitive environmental lands, reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife. The CRP program will likely continue to be a major USDA conservation program for many years to come.

For more information on the General CRP sign-up, or the CRP program, persons should contact their local FSA Office, or go to the USDA CRP website.


Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at

TAGS: Conservation
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