The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency oversees several voluntary conservation-related programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program. In the past, farmers have joked the CRP, “pays farmers not to farm”. But the truth is the work the farmers do with CRP has far reaching benefits. Programs like CRP work to address a large number of farming and ranching related conservation issues, such as water and air quality, soil erosion, and wildlife protection.
CRP pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality.
CRP is authorized by the Food Security Act of 1985 and was reauthorized by the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill). It is a voluntary program that works with agricultural producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is not farmed in a traditional sense, but instead devoted to conservation benefits. CRP participants plant approved native plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat. In return, FSA provides farmers with rental payments. Typical contract duration for CRP is between 10 and 15 years.
There are two ways to enter the CRP program, general enrollment or continuous enrollment. Under general enrollment, farmers have the opportunity to offer land for CRP general enrollment during announced enrollment periods. To submit CRP offers, farmers can contact their local FSA office and the FSA will accept offers only during the enrollment period.
Under Continuous CRP enrollment, environmentally sensitive land devoted to certain conservation practices may be enrolled in CRP at any time. Because the land is deemed particularly environmentally sensitive, continuous enrollment doesn’t utilize a bidding system. Instead, as long as applicants meet the necessary requirements and acres are available, they are automatically accepted in the program.
The conservation benefits of CRP are numerous. CRP protects more than 20 million acres of American topsoil from erosion every year and is designed to protect the nation’s greatest natural resources. Some of the main benefits of CRP are protecting water sources from chemical runoff, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing safe habitats for local wildlife, saving pollinators, and preventing dangerous soil erosion.
CRP can also be financially beneficial to farmers. CRP rental payments give farmers a stable source of revenue and CRP’s impact on production can positive influence the market price of commodity crops.
Are you and your land eligible?
If you’re interested in a program like CRP there are a few things to consider for eligibility. A farmer must have owned or operated the land in question for at least 12 months prior to submitting the offer. This is unless the land was acquired because of a previous owner’s death, ownership change occurred due to foreclosure, or the circumstance of the acquisition assures to the FSA that the new owner did not acquire the land for the explicit purpose of placing it in CRP.
For cropland to be considered eligible, land must be planted four of six crop years from 2012 to 2017, and be physically and legally capable of being planted.
If you are applying for general enrollment it is also important to consider that land must also meet one of the following criteria: have a weighted average erosion index of eight or higher, be enrolled in a CRP contract that expires September 30th, or be located in a national or state CRP conservation priority area.
In return for removing environmentally sensitive land from traditional crop production and moving it to a focus on native plant species that will improve the safety and health of the environment, the FSA will provide annual rental payments to participants.
The maximum CRP rental rate for each offer is calculated in advance of enrollment. Producers may offer land at that rate or offer a lower rental rate. In 2021, FSA introduced higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on CRP’s role in climate change mitigation.
Originally intended to help control soil erosion, programs like CRP are having far reaching environmental and economic benefits. Local farmers interested in the program should contact their local USDA service or FSA office.