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USDA looks to address low CRP enrollments

USDA CRP native grasses USDA.jpg
Diverse plant communities attract many species of prairie wildlife in acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
General signup extended for Conservation Reserve Program after low enrollment numbers.

Under the previous Administration, incentives and rental payment rates were reduced for the Conservation Reserve Program resulting in an enrollment shortfall of more than 4 million acres. In an effort to bolster the effectiveness of the program, USDA announced it would be extending the general signup period which had previously been announced as ending on Feb. 12, 2021 and would also look at ways to increase enrollment.

The program, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provides annual rental payments for 10 to 15 years for land devoted to conservation purposes, as well as other types of payments. Before the general CRP signup period ends, producers will have the opportunity to adjust or resubmit their offers to take advantage of planned improvements to the program, USDA says. 

“The Conservation Reserve Program provides a tremendous opportunity to address climate change both by retiring marginal cropland and by restoring grasslands, wetlands and forests,” says Robert Bonnie, deputy chief of staff, Office of the Secretary. “CRP has a 35-year track record of success beyond just climate benefits, by providing income to producers, improving water quality, reducing erosion, and supporting wildlife habitat and the hunting and fishing opportunities that go along with it.”

Bonnie says by extending this signup period, USDA hopes to “have time to evaluate and implement changes to get this neglected program back on track.”

In his last days of Congress, former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced a marker bill to expand acres under CRP as an important solution to do something on carbon. The bill called for up to 50 million acres of CRP out of production and into CRP, up from the current 22-million-acre cap.

“We have a program that’s successful, proven and works,” Peterson says of the CRP program. “There’s no better way to store carbon than with native grasses that take sunlight and turn into carbon deep in the ground.” It also brings other benefits such as improved water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat.

USDA notes as one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States, CRP provides both economic and conservation benefits by taking land out of agricultural production.  Program successes include:

  • Sequestering in soils and plants over 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or about the same amount that the entire state of Delaware emits annually.
  • Preventing more than 2 billion tons of soil from being blown away by wind erosion over the life of currently enrolled acres.
  • Reducing phosphorous reaching streams by almost 85 million pounds, nitrogen by nearly 450 million pounds, and sediment by over 160 million tons in 2020 alone.
  • Creating more than 2.3 million acres of restored wetlands while protecting more than 177,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers, enough to go around the world seven times.
  • Establishing over a half million acres of dedicated pollinator habitat and nearly 15 million more acres of diverse plantings that provide forage for pollinators.
  • Increasing populations of ducks and other game birds, prairie chickens, and such grassland songbirds as Baird’s Sparrow. CRP in the Northern Great Plains supports an estimated 8.6% of the grassland bird population.
  • Increasing habitat that supports economic opportunities, such as job creation, related to hunting and fishing activities.

This signup for CRP gives producers an opportunity to enroll land for the first time or re-enroll land under existing contracts that will be expiring Sept. 30, 2021. All interested producers, including those on Indian reservations and with trust lands, are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center for more information.

 

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