USDA Announces Major Changes for Conservation Reserve Program

Highlights

  • On Wednesday, April 21, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced several major changes to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
  • The announced changes were designed to increase enrollment in the nation’s largest private lands conservation program while providing additional incentives for the use of CRP to mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has advocated for many of these changes since the first general CRP signup following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Why it matters: The Conservation Reserve Program has been among the largest and most successful private lands conservation programs since its establishment in 1985. In recent years, enrollment in the program has declined and is currently several million acres below the acreage cap established by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill. The changes announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack make the program more profitable for landowners who are willing to implement conservation practices designed to benefit soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, and now climate change mitigation efforts. Additionally, by moving the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices to the continuous CRP, landowners interested in incorporating wildlife-specific practices may now enroll in the program year-round, rather than during the competitive general signup.

The past decade has not necessarily been kind to the Conservation Reserve Program. Since 2007, enrollment has decreased from an all-time high of nearly 37 million acres down to around 20 million. While the causes of this decline are varied, they have resulted in a significant decline in CRP enrollment to the detriment of soil health, water quality, and, of particular importance to sportsmen and women, wildlife habitat. Fortunately, several changes announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack set the stage for a resurgence of this important program.

Among the changes are several priorities that CSF has supported since the final rules for CRP under the 2018 Farm Bill were announced. First, rental rate calculations, which determine the per acre revenue that landowners will generate from land enrolled in the program, have been adjusted to account for on-site soil productivity. This adjustment allows landowners to receive rates that are tailored to the soil conditions on their property, ensuring the CRP can be incorporated as a profitable part of their system. Additionally, incentive payments for lands enrolled in continuous CRP (i.e., non-competitive applications that may be considered on a year-round basis) were raised from 20% of the practice cost to 50%, resulting in greater incentives for landowners who implement these important practices.

Finally, and of particular importance to sportsmen and women, is the decision to return State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) to the continuous CRP signup. This change means that SAFE practices can now be enrolled on a year-round, non-competitive basis. Currently, landowners can only enroll in SAFE practices through the annual, competitive general CRP signup. By moving to the continuous signup, landowners will have an easier path to improving their land for the benefit of wildlife.

In addition to the changes above, Secretary Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled additional incentives designed to promote the use of CRP to address the effects of climate change. As climate change mitigation and carbon sequestration continue to receive attention, it will be critical to have support from our nation’s private landowners. To learn more about these changes, read the USDA’s press release here.

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