Congress created CRP in 1985 following increased concern over unacceptably high levels of soil erosion as well as other environmental concerns. The 1985 Farm Bill authorized USDA to enroll up to 45 million acres in CRP.
By idling environmentally sensitive lands, the Conservation Reserve Program provides substantial conservation benefits by improving water quality, protecting soil, reducing carbon in the air, providing pollinator habitats, and increasing wildlife populations. In return, USDA pays the farmers an annual soil rental rate payment based on the soil productivity of acres enrolled.
CRP improves water quality
Improving water quality through establishment of perennial vegetation on environmentally sensitive land is one of CRP’s main focus. By establishing vegetation that persists year after year, CRP reduces the amount of water run-off from fields thus preventing loss of sediment, chemicals and fertilizer. By preventing this run-off, water quality is improved for streams, rivers and lakes.
CRP enhances wildlife habitat
The 23.4 million acres of grass, trees, and wetlands enrolled in CRP benefit numerous wildlife species. While many species have benefited from CRP three of the most important are the white-tailed deer, pheasants and non-game grassland birds.
CRP efforts have resulted in increases to white-tailed deer populations throughout the plains states and the Midwest. Deer are considered a keystone species and at their correct numbers they have a major impact on biodiversity and encourage new plant growth.
CRP has resulted in an increase to pheasants and of course, pheasant hunters. These hunters have been essential for many state wildlife agencies as their hunting license fees have deposited roughly $1 billion into agency budgets for conservation work over that time, in turn benefiting hundreds of wildlife species.
Non-game grassland birds, one of the fastest declining groups of birds in the country, have also responded positively to CRP habitat building efforts. The decline of these birds could lead to increased listings of threatened and endangered species.
CRP benefits honey bees and other pollinators
Pollinator species remain one of the most critical parts of maintaining a strong ecosystem because more than a third of the food we eat requires pollination from various animals including: bats, birds and of course insects like the honeybee. For more than a decade, the honeybee population, which is a very important pollinator species, has been dying at an alarming rate in the United States. Climate change, pesticide use and loss of natural habitat have all contributed the decline in the bee population.
The CRP program is naturally addressing these issues. Beekeepers prefer CRP land when selecting locations to raise honeybee colonies because they provide pesticide-free areas and because of the multiple flower species that are often grown on CRP land-giving a natural habitat for over 40% of America’s honeybee population. Programs like CRP are helping protect soil, water, and wildlife, reduce the use of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases, and restore natural ecological systems-all of which are helping to save the honeybee.
CRP reduces greenhouse gas emissions
Greenhouse gases have far-ranging environmental and health effects. They cause climate change, contribute to respiratory disease, cause extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and increased wildfires. Cutting emissions of carbon dioxide is critical to slow the rate of global warming.
CRP sequesters more carbon on private lands than any other federally administered program. This carbon enhances soil health while simultaneously removing the harmful carbon from the air we breathe and offsets the release of greenhouse gases.
CRP protects and enhances soil productivity
The initial push for the Conservation Reserve Program was to protect eroding and damaged soil and since 1986 CRP has been doing just that! CRP greatly reduces erosion and protects soil productivity by targeting fragile cropland and placing these lands into protective conservation cover. CRP has reduced soil erosion by more than 9 billion tons.
The CRP was created to support conservation and the farmland that’s enrolled provides numerous environmental benefits including protecting our air and water, creating wildlife habitats and minimizing soil loss. The conservation efforts of CRP are necessary to protect the stability of our ecosystem.