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Sign-up period for CRP opens

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The USDA's sign-up period for the Conservation Reserve Program is open now through Feb. 20.

This is the first sign-up period for the general CRP program since the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill and will be the 54th CRP sign-up period since the program started in 1986. There is also an ongoing sign-up for the Continuous CRP program.

The CRP program was established in the 1985 Farm Bill to take large segments of marginal crop land out of production, stabilize crop prices and control soil erosion. Over time, the CRP program has become more targeted at taking more environmentally sensitive crop land out of production, with a focus on protecting water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and improving air quality, as well as controlling soil erosion.

According to USDA statistics, during the 35-year history of the program, CRP has resulted in the following environmental benefits:

* Prevented more than 9 billion tons of soil erosion, enough to fill 600 million typical dump trucks.

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* Reduced nitrogen runoff by 95 percent and phosphorus runoff by 85 percent on previously tilled land.

* Sequestered an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, which is the equivalent removing 9 million cars from highways in the U.S.

* Created in excess of 3 million acres of restored wetlands and protected more than 175,000 miles along rivers and streams through grass buffers and waterways.

* Resulted in increased populations of ducks, pheasants, wild turkeys, quail, and other birds and wildlife, as well as benefiting bees and pollinators.

From 1986 to 1995, the maximum acres that could be enrolled in CRP at any one time was 45 million acres. The maximum acreage was gradually reduced through various farm bills, reaching a low at a maximum of 24 million acres in the 2014 bill. The maximum CRP acreage will increase under the 2018 bill to a maximum of 27 million acres by 2023. There were more than 30 million acres in the CRP program from 1990 to 2010. Currently, there are just fewer than 22 million acres enrolled in the CRP program, which includes 13.2 million acres under General CRP contracts, 6.5 million acres under Continuous CRP contracts, and the balance enrolled in special CRP programs.

Any land that was under a CRP contract that expired in 2017, 2018 or 2019 is eligible to be considered for enrollment again. There has not been an opportunity for re-enrollment of those acres through a seneral sign-up since 2016. Any of the 5.4 million acres under a CRP contract that will be expiring on Sept. 30, 2020, also are eligible for re-enrollment now.

Land owners and producers may want to consider putting new land into CRP. To be eligible, the land must have been owned or operated for least 12 months prior to the end of the CRP enrollment period. It also must have been planted or considered planted in four of the past six years from 2012 to 2017. Alfalfa and hay acres that were included in a crop rotation qualify as CRP acres. Farm operators and land owners may want to evaluate some difficult crop acres, which have been particularly exposed in the 2018 and 2019 crop years, for enrollment.

Under the General CRP program, producers and land owners submit bids to enroll land into the CRP program beginning on Oct. 1, 2020, following the 2020 crop year. The duration of the CRP contract is 10 to15 years. Bids will be evaluated and ranked based on the "environmental benefits index" to determine which acres will be enrolled. The environmental factors include:

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* Wildlife habitat benefit.

* Water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff, and leaching.

* On-farm benefits from reduced erosion.

* Long-term benefits that will likely endure beyond the CRP contract period.

* Air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion.

* Cost factors -- producers can submit rental bids for the proposed acres.

The 2018 Farm Bill established the maximum CRP rental rate at 85 percent of the average county rental rates for CRP acres. Producers and land owners may offer lower rental rates in order to enhance the likelihood of their CRP bid being accepted. 

Producers and land owners may enroll eligible acres into the Continuous CRP program at any time. This program is for the most environmentally sensitive land, which is devoted to specific conservation practices. The Continuous CRP program does not require a competitive bidding process to have the acres accepted into CRP, and the annual rental rates are pre-set at 90 percent of the average county rental rate. 

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For more information on either the General or Continuous CRP programs, or to find out the maximum county CRP rental rates, contact the local FSA office. For more information on the CRP program, go to www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.

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