The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is one of the most successful programs that the Natural Resources Service and the Farm Service Agency use in many states to promote installation of conservation practices. That's because the federal government carries a big part of the financial load. The state adds in, and cost-share is usually favorable for landowners.
The bad news in Indiana is that it has the smallest CREP program in the nation. But the good news is that it has one at all. Gail Peas, then with the Division of Soil Conservation, and now with Indiana FSA, helped launch the first CREP effort at the Hession farm near Brownsburg in 2005.
'The other good news is that the state is making an effort to greatly expand the areas of the state that can participate in the program," Peas says. "There are three watersheds based on the original CREP proposal. Farmers and landowners in those three areas are eligible for programs offered through CREP.
"Eight more watersheds have been targeted for CREP," she says. "All the paperwork has been submitted. We're waiting to hear from Washington, D.C that it is a go. We should hear one way or the other very soon."
If FSA officials in Washington approve, Peas expects these new CREP projects to take wings, even though the state is currently extremely tight of funds. The money for the state's share of CREP payments to farmers comes from the cigarette tax portion that feeds Clean Water Indiana, she notes.
Other conservation programs are available if you're in a proposed CREP watershed but don't want to wait upon whether final signoff occurs or not. Continuous conservation reserve practices are available. As the name implies, you may sign up at anytime. These include filter strips, critical field buffers and other soil conservation projects intended to reduce the amounts of soil and nutrients that run off the field, especially during peak weather events.
There has not been a general conservation reserve in several years, but there may be one in the not-so-distant future, Peas notes. Calling a general sign-up into the regular Conservation Reserve, which retries acreage, is up to the Secretary of Agriculture. In this case, that means Tom Vilsack. If he does so, and many believe he will at some point next year, those who want to enter farms will offer bids and will compete based partly upon how much environmental benefit can be achieved if landowners and/or producers are encouraged to retire the land into the conservation reserve.