Groups analyze reopening of CRP enrollment | TheFencePost.com

Groups analyze reopening of CRP enrollment

-The Hagstrom Report

The Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency has resumed accepting applications for the Conservation Reserve Program after a pause since last fall to allow USDA to review available acres and avoid exceeding the 24 million-acre CRP cap set by the 2014 farm bill.

CRP enrollment currently is about 22.7 million acres. In return for enrolling land in CRP, USDA provides participants with annual rental payments and cost-share assistance.

Landowners enter into contracts that last between 10 and 15 years. CRP pays producers who remove sensitive lands from production and plant certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.

Eligible farmers, ranchers and private landowners can sign up at their local FSA office from now until Aug. 17.

"The Conservation Reserve Program is an important component of the suite of voluntary conservation programs USDA makes available to agricultural producers, benefiting both the land and wildlife," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

"On the road, I often hear firsthand how popular CRP is for our recreational sector; hunters, fishermen, conservationists and bird watchers," Perdue said.

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"CRP also is a powerful tool to encourage agricultural producers to set aside unproductive, marginal lands that should not be farmed to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife and boost soil health."

USDA said it would give priority to enrolling the most sensitive acreage and avoid unintended competition with new and beginning farmers seeking leases.

FSA will use updated soil rental rates to make annual rental payments, reflecting current values. It will not offer incentive payments as part of the new signup.

USDA will not open a general signup this year, however, a one-year extension will be offered to existing CRP participants with expiring CRP contracts of 14 years or less. Producers eligible for an extension will receive a letter with more information.

Additionally, FSA established new ranking criteria for CRP grasslands, and applicants who previously applied will be asked to reapply using the new ranking criteria.

The new changes to CRP do not impact the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a related program offered by CCC and state partners.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said last year's freezing of enrollment was necessary, and welcomed the reopening of enrollment for CCRP acres "and the strong focus on water quality-related buffer practices."

NSAC noted it had long advocated for some of the practices included in the announcement, but added, "We will work with FSA and Congress, however, to urge the inclusion of several other important in-field buffer practices in the future that were left out of today's announcement," such as in-field buffer practices, such as contour grass strips, that are eligible under CCRP but are not included in this sign-up.

"We appreciate the updated ranking criteria announced today for the CRP Grasslands Initiative," NSAC added. "This initiative provides priority to applicants with land coming out of CRP who are looking to transition to grazing operations consistent with sound conservation and wildlife practices. It is an excellent opportunity for conservation-minded farmers and landowners with land that has expired or will expire soon from CRP."

In a Market Intel report with maps of CRP enrollment by state, the American Farm Bureau Federation emphasized that rental rates for new CRP enrollment will be determined using updated soil rental rates, and that these contracts will not include incentive payments as part of the contract.

"This will address the unintended consequence of CRP acres competing with farmland acreage new and beginning farmers are looking to lease," Farm Bureau said.

"Going forward, there is congressional interest in expanding the CRP acreage cap and in updating the rental rate methodology to consider both the enrollment duration and comparable county-level cash rents," Farm Bureau said.