Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Gets a Makeover

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Gets a Makeover

”CRP is new and improved. We have more reasons than ever for landowners to consider this great conservation program.” Brandon Soldner, Statewide CRP Program Specialist, Farm Service Agency, Madison, WI

Prairie with farm buildings in background
Photo by Tom Kelly (flickr.com)

CRP has reached a milestone. The Conservation Reserve Program, widely known as CRP, turned thirty years old last month. This federal program, co-managed by Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, is our country’s most successful conservation program in history.

Sign-up for CRP is open now through February 26th. Whether you know the program or not, the recent program’s makeover makes it worth a look.

This voluntary government program has a simple premise: landowners convert their “poor” cropland into “rich” conservation land in exchange for annual rental payments from the federal government. As designed, the program focuses on planting erosion-prone fields to perennial cover in the form of either trees, prairie, or grasses. For the landowner, this program improves the health of their land and eliminates hand-wringing over lost income for “doing the right thing” on highly erodible fields.

The program’s cumulative benefits are undeniable: tens of millions of acres across the country in perennial vegetative cover; 2.7 million acres of restored wetlands; the prevention of over 9 billion tons of soil from filling our streams, rivers, and lakes; significant reductions in nitrogen and phosphorous runoff (95% and 85%, respectively); the buffering of more than 170,000 stream miles (that’s seven laps around the world!); and the sequestering  of an annual average of 49 million tons of carbon.

These benefits have made improvements to soil, water, air, and wildlife habitats and have created greater stability for the agricultural enterprise. It’s little wonder why CRP is considered so successful.

But at thirty, there are also a few signs of aging. For many years, CRP enrollment hovered between 30 and 36 million acres nationwide. More recently, because of program enrollment caps, pulses of expiring contracts, participant displeasure with mid-contract management, and rental rate competition from commodity prices, the program’s deliverables have been challenged.

As of last November, 24 million acres were enrolled nationwide. Relative to the 2007 high benchmark, losses in enrollment nationwide are equivalent to one-third the size of Wisconsin – in just eight years. No telling how many conversations about CRP were as bitter as diner coffee, but it had to be a few. The losses in program acres from 2007 to present represents over 85,000 farms across the US.

But CRP got a makeover for its 30th birthday. “The Agency listened to landowners’ concerns,” stated Soldner. “Specifically, two areas were addressed, rental rates and mid-contract management requirements.” The rental rates increased across Wisconsin, and mid-contract management expectations were adjusted to avoid predictable conflicts.

Want to judge the makeover for yourself?  Landowners need to visit their local Farm Services Agency to determine program eligibility and the rental rates for their properties. During an in-office visit, agents will run a calculation to determine the field rental rate. Soldner has been very pleased with the response: “People are taking notice and coming into our offices, which is great!”