Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will accept 1.7 million acres offered under the 45th Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. The Department received nearly 28,000 offers on more than 1.9 million acres of land, demonstrating CRP’s continuing appeal as one of our nation’s most successful voluntary programs for soil, water, and wildlife conservation. Under Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has enrolled nearly 12 million acres in new CRP contracts since 2009. Currently, there are more than 26.9 million acres enrolled on 700,000 contracts.
In addition to the announcement, over the last four years, USDA has set aside significant acreage under CRP’s Continuous enrollment programs to target habitat conservation on especially important lands. For example, in March, 2012, President Obama dedicated 1 million acres of CRP to Continuous Enrollment Programs to conserve wetlands, grasslands and wildlife. This year, farmers and ranchers have already offered more than 370,000 acres under Continuous CRP signup, a figure that is impressive given that the lack of a Farm Bill extension last fall meant that CRP enrollment only reopened this spring in May. Lack of a comprehensive Farm Bill this year has resulted in uncertainty for achieving further enrollment objectives under continuous CRP.
USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors are: (1) wildlife enhancement, (2) water quality, (3) soil erosion, (4) enduring benefits, and (5) air quality.