USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program with higher payment rates, new incentives and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation.
USDA’s goal is to enroll up to 4 million new acres in CRP by raising rental payment rates and expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program. CRP is one of the world’s largest voluntary conservation programs with a long track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon and reducing nitrogen runoff, as well providing healthy habitat for wildlife.
CRP is a powerful tool when it comes to climate mitigation, and acres enrolled in the program mitigate more than 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. If USDA reaches its goal of enrolling an additional 4 million acres into the program, it will mitigate an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent and prevent 90 million pounds of nitrogen and 33 million tons of sediment from running into waterways each year.
Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials.
Here are six highlights of the new program:
1. Climate smart. To target the program on climate change mitigation, the Farm Service Agency is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous sign-ups that aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-Smart CRP practices include establishment of trees and permanent grasses, development of wildlife habitat and wetland restoration. The Climate-Smart Practice Incentive is annual, and the amount is based on the benefits of each practice type.
2. Increased acres. In 2021, CRP is capped at 25 million acres, and currently 20.8 million acres are enrolled. Furthermore, the cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023.
3. Adjusted soil rental rates. This enables additional flexibility for rate adjustments, including a possible increase in rates where appropriate.
4. Increased incentives. Farmers will see an increase in practice incentives from 20% to 50%. This incentive for continuous CRP practices is based on the cost of establishment and is in addition to cost-share payments.
5. Increased water quality payments. Rates are increasing from 10% to 20% for certain water quality benefiting practices available through the CRP continuous sign-up, such as grassed waterways, riparian buffers and filter strips.
6. Establishing a CRP grassland minimum rental rate. This benefits more than 1,300 counties with rates currently below the minimum.