CRP sign-up tops 800,000 acres

More than 800,000 acres were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through the program's 49th sign up period, according to final figures recently compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA notes that through past sign ups, nearly $2 billion is annually provided to landowners. The USDA in these days of tight government budgeting is emphasizing more than ever the value the nation receives from helping farmers and ranchers protect the environment through CRP participating.

Participants in CRP establish long-term, "resource-conserving" plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (referred to as "covers" by USDA) to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands. In return, USDA's Farm Service Agency provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance for some conservation projects. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.

"CRP is currently protecting more than 100,000 acres of bottomland hardwood trees, nearly 300,000 acres of flood-plain wetlands, and 300,000 acres each for duck nesting habitat and nearly 250,000 acres of upland bird habitat. In addition, CRP is creating economic benefits that include at least $545 million per year in recreation benefits and water quality benefits from reduced sedimentation of $587 million per year," according to the USDA announcement.

"Over the past 30 years, CRP has created major environmental improvements throughout the countryside. The program has removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere equal to removing nine million cars from the road annually, and prevented 600 million dump trucks of soil from erosion. With today's announcement, USDA is continuing these achievements by maximizing conservation benefits within the limitations provided by law," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Because of limitations placed on the CRP program through congressional budgeting on this year's CPR, the USDA noted that it set a high bar on selecting the acres that could be enrolled. Each acre was evaluated for addressing "multiple conservation priorities simultaneously."

A nationwide acreage limit was established for the program in the 2014 Farm Bill, capping the total number of acres that may be enrolled at 24 million for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. At the same time, USDA has experienced a record demand from farmers and ranchers interested in participating in the voluntary program. As of March 2016, 23.8 million acres were enrolled in CRP, with 1.7 million acres were set to expire this fall.