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Putting some land in CRP?

USDA reminds producers of Feb. 28 deadline for Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up.

Rod Swoboda

February 7, 2020

5 Min Read
two women standing in a field of CRP land
MANAGE MARGINAL ACRES: CRP is a voluntary program to maximize the most productive acres while protecting the most sensitive acres of each farm.NRCS

USDA is reminding ag producers interested in the Conservation Reserve Program that the general sign-up deadline is Feb. 28 for 2020 enrollment. This sign-up is available to farmers and private landowners who are either enrolling for the first time or re-enrolling for another 10- to 15-year term.

“This is the first opportunity for general sign-up since 2016, and we want producers and private landowners to know the deadline is approaching,” says Richard Fordyce, administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. “It’s critical that they make their final determinations and submit offers very soon to take advantage of this popular conservation program.”

Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive yearly rental payments for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as “covers”), which can control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands.

Enrollment cap increases

CRP currently has 22 million acres enrolled nationwide, but the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. Fordyce tells Wallaces Farmer about the program and the recent changes that make it more attractive for farmers and landowners.

“Not only has the cap been raised but a significant number of CRP contracts are expiring, creating an opportunity for more acres to be enrolled and also re-enrolled,” Fordyce says. “Some farmers have looked at CRP in past years and decided to not enroll. Or in some cases, the cap on total enrollment was reached and they couldn’t get into the program.

“CRP is for marginally productive land, to take it out of row crop production and seed it down. Corn and soybean yield on marginal acres usually aren’t high enough to make those acres profitable for row cropping anyway, and there’s a need to control soil erosion and improve water quality. So, more farmers and landowners need to consider this opportunity to enroll such land in the CRP and seed it down.”

Enrolling these acres in CRP provides a consistent income from marginal land, Fordyce says. It also reduces financial risk. You don’t know what kind of yield you’ll get when raising corn and soybeans on marginal land — as yields on marginal acres depend more heavily on weather. Also, what are the crop prices going to be? That’s always a risk with row crops.

“Enrolling in CRP is an individual decision for landowners,” he notes. “But the opportunity is here to at least look at the CRP program and consider enrolling. Visit with the staff at your county FSA office and review your options.”

General vs. continuous sign-up

The annual rental rate that CRP pays landowners for enrolling acres in the program differs by county and by the conservation practices used. For land currently enrolled in CRP with the contract expiring, “this is an opportunity to re-enroll and you’ll have peace of mind that it’s back in this conservation program for another 10 years,” Fordyce says.

Understand that this Feb. 28 deadline is for the general CRP program sign-up. The other version of the CRP program — the continuous sign-up — will continue past the Feb. 28 deadline.

The continuous signup program is more for focused resource concerns and use of water quality practices such as riparian buffers, filter strips and a new practice — prairie strips. The continuous program will stay open for those practices, which typically cover smaller acreages as part of the CRP program. These conservation practices are used on specific areas, such as edges of fields.

The general CRP program, on the other hand, covers entire fields and the acres are seeded to a permanent cover, such as grass. The continuous CRP program is more water-quality focused. Historically, general sign-ups have occurred whenever USDA determined there was sufficient demand and acres available to warrant a general enrollment. Under the terms of the new 2018 Farm Bill, USDA is directed to hold a general sign-up enrollment each year.

CRP marks 35 years

Signed into law in 1985, CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the U.S., Fordyce says. It was originally intended to primarily control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. The program has evolved over the years, providing many conservation and economic benefits. Marking its 35th anniversary in 2020, CRP has had many successes, including:

  • preventing more than 9 billion tons of soil from eroding, enough soil to fill 600 million dump trucks

  • reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to annually tilled cropland by 95% and 85%, respectively

  • sequestering an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road

  • creating more than 3 million acres of restored wetlands, while protecting more than 175,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers, enough to go around the world seven times

  • benefiting bees and other pollinators, as well as ducks, pheasants, turkey, bobwhite quail, prairie chickens, grasshopper sparrows and other birds.

The CRP continuous sign-up is ongoing, which enables producers to enroll for certain practices. FSA plans to open a Soil Health and Income Protection Program, a CRP pilot program, in early 2020, and the 2020 CRP Grasslands sign-up runs from March 16 to May 15. To enroll in CRP, contact your local FSA county office or visit fsa.usda.gov/crp

About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda

Rod Swoboda is a former editor of Wallaces Farmer and is now retired.

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