Overall Enrollment in Conservation Reserve Program Increases, Challenges Remain

Highlights

  • Following several changes to the administration of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), including many changes supported by the sporting-conservation community, overall enrollment in CRP increased entering FY 2022.
  • These increases were primarily seen in Grassland CRP enrollment which conserves lands already planted in grass cover.
  • General CRP lost another 1.1 million acres entering 2022, while continuous (non-competitive) CRP signup opportunities netted marginal increases in enrollment.

Why it matters: The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ranks among the most successful voluntary private land conservation programs in the world. By providing rental payments and technical assistance to landowners who agree to convert lands from commodity production to practices that generate conservation benefits, CRP can benefit the overall agricultural system and nearby ecosystem health. However, high commodity prices and other factors have resulted in decreased enrollment in the program since its high in 2007.

The transition from Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 to 2022 provided a chance to compare enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) following significant changes through the program in the Biden Administration’s first year. While net enrollment in the program increased by approximately 1.5 million acres, the distribution of those acres between available programs, in addition to the gap between enrollment levels and the current statutory enrollment cap, highlight challenges that remain for one of the nation’s most cherished private lands conservation programs.

The largest enrollment gains were seen in the Grasslands CRP option which provides rental payments to landowners who agree to protect existing grasslands from conversion while maintaining the area for grazing. Grasslands CRP enrollment increased by more than 2.2 million acres from FY 2021 to FY 2022. Unfortunately, much of this increase was offset by a decrease in General CRP enrollment which dropped by approximately 1.1 million acres as expiring contracts were not offset by beginning or renewed CRP contracts. Finally, continuous CRP – which accepts contracts on an ongoing, non-competitive basis – saw modest gains with a net increase of 400,000 acres entering FY 2022.

The significant reduction in General CRP and modest gains in continuous CRP enrollment have been attributed to several factors. In an article comparing FY 2021 enrollment to the start of FY 2022, authors from the University of Illinois cited increased commodity prices as a leading cause for this trend. Though the Biden Administration did introduce changes designed to bolster enrollment, including amending rental rate calculations, and moving the popular State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) back to continuous CRP, it is clear that more is needed to ensure that CRP remains a viable option for landowners interested in this critical voluntary program.

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