Competition from high commodity prices will make a dent in the nation's 30 million acres enrolled in the nation's conservation reserve program. Contracts will expire later this year on 6.5 million of those acres, but USDA is not standing idly by regarding what it calls "the largest, most successful conservation program in history."
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, during a speech and a press conference at the National Farmers Union convention in Omaha, outlined new CRP initiatives to recoup the loss of acres that may go out of CRP.
"We can celebrate 25 years of success with CRP," Vilsack said. "The program provides income opportunities for farmers and ranchers, it protects soil and water quality, sequesters carbon and expands wildlife habitat. By creating habitat, it provides jobs for those with outdoor and recreation business."
Just days before Vilsack's stop at the NFU convention, USDA announced a new CRP initiative to restore grasslands, wetlands and wildlife on 1 million acres nationwide. The goal of the new program is to increase enrollment of environmentally sensitive land through targeted sign-ups. The Farm Service Agency, which administers CRP, will set aside acres for specific enrollment that benefit duck nesting habitat, upland birds, wetlands, pollinators and wildlife.
In an attempt to sweeten the pot for enrollment, FSA will increase the Signing Incentive Payments to $150, $50 more than the current level of $100 an acre.
In February, USDA announced another CRP initiative to protect up to 750,000 acres of the nation's most highly erodible croplands. Those who have highly erodible land—with an erodibility index of 20 or greater—can enroll the land and, if it is accepted in the program, can plant wildlife-friendly, long-term cover through the continuous CRP.
Sign-up will begin this summer at local FSA offices, according to Vilsack.
"Lands eligible for this program are typically the least productive land on the farm," he added. "Enrolling land will reduce erosion, improve habitat and reduce sediment and nutrient runoff."
Land can be enrolled on a continuous basis for a period of 10 years.
A four-week CRP general signup that begins March 12 will end April 6.