On December 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) opened a general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which has been recognized as the largest private lands conservation program in the United States since its inception in 1985.
On a voluntary basis, the Conservation Reserve Program provides willing landowners the opportunity to receive annual rental payments for removing land from agricultural production and implementing conservation practices designed to benefit soils, water quality, and/or wildlife habitat. This current sign-up period, the first General CRP sign-up since 2016, will remain open until February 28, 2020. General CRP sign-up periods involve a competitive application process in which eligible offers are ranked and selected based on their Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). Included in this enrollment period are additional opportunities for landowners to focus on wildlife habitat practices through the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) Initiative, a program designed to meet high-priority wildlife habitat objectives at the state and regional levels. Increasing enrollment opportunities for SAFE practices has been a top priority for many in the conservation community.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized an annual increase in the CRP acreage cap, reaching a maximum of 27 million acres in 2023. Currently, there are around 22 million acres enrolled in CRP contracts, well below the current cap of 24 million acres, and many of these acres are set to expire over the next few years. Fortunately, this and future annual sign-ups, combined with the apparent interest in the program among landowners, presents a great opportunity to increase conservation efforts on private lands.
In addition to this general sign-up, the USDA announced an ongoing continuous CRP sign-up that, while including some SAFE practices, will focus primarily on water quality practices, a CRP Grasslands sign-up that will open in March, and two new pilot programs: A 30-year contract option of the Clear Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers Initiative (CLEAR 30), and the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP). Finally, the USDA has included provisions to allow landowners whose CRP contracts expired in 2017, 2018, or 2019 to re-enroll as long as they have maintained conservation practices on the expired land.
For more information on CRP opportunities in your area, contact your local USDA office.
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