Published on 01/26/00

Conservation Reserve Sign-up Under Way

The Conservatio n Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up began Jan. 18 and will run through Feb. 11 in local U.S. Department of Agriculture service centers.

"This is an opportunity for farmers and landowners to participate in a cost-effective, voluntary program to improve their land, water and wildlife resources," said Dan Glickman, U.S. secretary of agriculture.

"They can lock in a multiyear payment based on local rental rates," Glickman said. "Participants with contracts expiring this fall can also make new contract offers."

Improving Natural Resources

The CRP is designed to improve the nation's natural resource base. Participants enroll environmentally sensitive land in long-term contracts with the USDA. They get annual rental payments and a single, up-front payment of up to half the cost of establishing conservation practices.

The program protects millions of acres of U.S. topsoil from erosion. By reducing water runoff and sedimentation, it also protects groundwater and helps improve lakes, rivers, ponds and streams.

Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted to resource-conserving covers (like trees or grass). This greatly increases wildlife populations in many parts of the country.

Environmental Benefits Index

The USDA will evaluate and rank eligible CRP offers using an Environmental Benefits Index. The EBI is based on the potential environmental benefits gained from enrolling the land in the CRP. Decisions on the EBI cutoff will be made after sign-up ends.

The Farm Service Agency is authorized to maintain CRP enrollment up to 36.4 million acres. About 31.5 million acres were enrolled in CRP contracts as of Oct. 1, 1999.

About 400,000 acres are subject to CRP contracts that will expire on Sept. 30, 2000. The contracts awarded will become effective Oct. 1, 2000.

Continuous Sign-up Program

But landowners can avoid the highly competitive EBI under the general sign-up, said Bill Thomas, an economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. They can enroll the most environmentally sensitive land under CRP's continuous sign-up program.

"Under the continuous sign-up, relatively small amounts of land can be enrolled at any time if they protect much larger areas, such as filter strips, riparian buffers and grass waterways," Thomas said.

For more information, visit your USDA service center. Or ask your county Extension Service agent.