Participants voluntarily remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production by entering into long-term contracts for 10-15 years. In exchange, participants receive annual rental payments and a payment of up to 50% of the cost of establishing conservation practices.

The CRP general sign-up will be from May 5 through May 30. Producers can sign up at their county USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. Producers need to be aware that the 2003 CRP signup will be through the FSA office, not the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office as in previous CRP signups, says Gary Wyatt, regional educator with the University of Minnesota extension service.

By reducing water runoff and sedimentation, CRP also protects groundwater and helps improve the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted to resource-conserving vegetative covers, making the program a major contributor to increases in wildlife populations in many parts of the country. The 2002 Farm Bill authorized USDA to maintain CRP enrollment up to 39.2 million acres.

Aside from the general sign-up, CRP's continuous sign-up program will be ongoing. USDA has reserved two million acres for the continuous sign-up program, which represents the most environmentally desirable and sensitive land. USDA is making a special effort to help enhance wildlife habitats and air quality by setting aside 500,000 acres for bottomland hardwood tree planting. Continuous sign-up for hardwood planting will start after the general sign-up.

Current participants with contracts expiring this fall can make new contract offers. Contracts awarded under this sign-up will become effective either at the beginning of the next fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2003, or the following year, Oct. 1, 2004, whichever the producer chooses. One other general sign-up will be offered through 2007.

The Farm Service Agency will evaluate and rank eligible CRP offers using the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) for environmental benefits to be gained from enrolling the land in CRP. Decisions on the EBI cutoff will be made after the sign-up ends and after analyzing the EBI numbers of all the offers. Those who would have met previous sign-up EBI thresholds are not guaranteed a contract under this sign-up. For more information, visit http://www.usda.gov or call your local FSA office.