USDA to Hold General Signup For CRP Beginning March 14

USDA will hold a general signup for the conservation reserve program beginning March 14 and running through April 15.

USDA will hold a general signup for the conservation reserve program beginning March 14 and running through April 15. Under the 2008 farm bill, CRP is limited to a maximum of 32 million acres. Currently, the total national CRP stands at 31.3 million acres enrolled in nearly 738,000 contracts, and USDA estimates that contracts on 3.3 million to 6.5 million acres are scheduled to expire annually between now and 2014.

Under the program, eligible landowners receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland. Land can be enrolled for a period of up to 15 years. Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted to resource-conserving vegetative covers, making the program a major contributor to increased wildlife populations in many parts of the country.

During the general signup period, farmers and ranchers may offer eligible land at their county Farm Service Agency office. FSA then evaluates and ranks eligible CRP offers using an environmental benefits index that shows the environmental benefits to be gained from enrolling the land in CRP. The EBI consists of five environmental factors (wildlife, water, soil, air and enduring benefits) and cost.

Land currently not enrolled in CRP may be offered in this signup provided all eligibility requirements are met. Additionally, current CRP participants with contracts expiring this fall may make new contract offers. Contracts awarded under this signup are scheduled to become effective Oct. 1, 2011 .

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the 25-year-old CRP might need to be changed in the next farm bill. The secretary says that allowing landowners to grow biofuel crops like switch grass on CRP land might improve the habitat for wildlife while making the CRP more economical. "We're looking at whether it makes sense to use CRP land for biofuel," he said. But Vilsack did not specify what that would mean for the program.

Vilsack said all the farm bill programs will have to be examined closely for effectiveness because of the growing federal deficit. "The realities we're going to face in the next farm bill are going to force us to be as creative as possible," he said. 

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