USDA opens CRP signup

More farmers can enroll in conservation program after last farm bill increased acreage cap to 27 million acres.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

December 5, 2019

3 Min Read
USDA opens CRP signup

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is opening signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on Dec. 9, 2019. The deadline for agricultural producers to sign up for general CRP is Feb. 28, 2020, while signup for continuous CRP is ongoing.

Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive a yearly rental payment for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as “covers”) to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands.

“The Conservation Reserve Program is one of our nation’s largest conservation endeavors and a critical tool to help producers better manage their operations while conserving natural resources,” Perdue said. “The program marks its 35-year anniversary in 2020, and we’re hoping to see one of our largest signups in many years.”

While 22 million acres are enrolled in CRP, the 2018 farm bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. This means farmers and ranchers have a chance to enroll in CRP for the first time or continue their participation for another term.

Signed into law in 1985, CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the U.S. The program was originally intended primarily to control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. This farm bill program has evolved over the years to provide a variety of conservation and economic benefits from coast to coast.

Of note, CRP has:

  • Prevented more than 9 billion tons of soil from eroding -- enough soil to fill 600 million dump trucks;

  • Reduced nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to annually tilled cropland by 95% and 85%, respectively;

  • Sequestered an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road;

  • Created more than 3 million acres of restored wetlands while protecting more than 175,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers -- enough to go around the world seven times, and

  • Benefited bees and other pollinators and increased populations of ducks, pheasants, turkeys, bobwhite quail, prairie chickens, grasshopper sparrows and many other birds.

In a statement, Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic advisor for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), said with the continuous CRP, including the new water quality- focused CLEAR Initiative, open for business once again, farmers have a vital tool back for reducing run-off by buffering their streams and water bodies.

“It is our strong hope that the continuous signup will never again be shut down, as it has been several times in recent years,” Hoefner said, adding that there is no reason the Farm Service Agency (FSA) could not manage continuous CRP in a way to make sure "the continuous signup is just that – continuous."

He added that while NSAC is pleased that the continuous CRP and CLEAR are starting up again, "we are disappointed that the new interim final rule addresses only the adjunct CLEAR 30 pilot project but not CLEAR itself. This surprising oversight must be corrected in the final version of the rule. We will also be watching closely to see if the farm bill’s signup incentive payments and practice incentive payments for CRP and CLEAR will be fully utilized and made available for all practices and at the maximum levels.”

NSAC explained that the interim final rule includes improvements to the CRP Transition Incentive Program (TIP) made in the 2018 farm bill for increased funding and streamlined requirements. TIP plays a significant role in addressing one of the most pressing barriers for beginning farmers: access to land. Through TIP, CRP-enrolled landowners planning to exit the program can receive incentives to transfer that farmland to a beginning operator. TIP pulls double duty by both creating new farming opportunities for beginning producers and also helping maintain the conservation benefits achieved through CRP.  

“We urge FSA to expand its outreach for the program and we encourage landowners with contracts that expire in coming years to consider participating in TIP,” Hoefner said.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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