The Conservation Reserve Program is the conservation effort championed by U. S. Senator Dick Lugar in the mid-1980's. It involves setting aside rougher land for either 10 or 15 years through a commitment and easement to the government. When the program was first initiated, it also served to help reduce corn surpluses. Marginal lands were the first accepted into the program nationwide.
Even Julia Wickard, Indiana state Farm Service Agency director, acknowledges that she was somewhat surprised to see a new sign-up period announced from Washington. More than two-dozen sign-ups have been held on an irregular basis since the program began. Land can only be entered when a sign-up window is open. Typically, leases are for 10 to 15 years. Then the land rolls out, and is typically either converted back to cropland, unless tress were established as part of the plan for covering the land while it was in the program, or else it is re-enrolled, assuming it is accepted back into the program.
What makes this sign-up somewhat surprising is that the emphasis has been on cutting budgets in Washington. "The conservation ethic seems to be holding up pretty well during these debates," Wickard notes. "The land that goes into this program will be land that deserves to be protected."
As in earlier signups, producers can offer land for enrollment. Once the enrollment process ends, government officials will award contracts based upon a priority system. Those acres that need the most protection where the landowner is willing to enter them into the program will receive first priority.Contracts are again expected to be for 10 to 15 years. The producer receives annual payments in exchange for leaving the land out of production, and instead establishing a cover on it for protection from soil erosion during the period that it is not in row crop farming.