The first general sign-up period for the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program since 2006 will start on Aug. 2 and run through Aug. 27, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday.

USDA’s goal is to enroll enough land in the CRP to offset the loss of 4.5 million acres from the program this fall and push enrollments back near the 32-million-acre says USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services Jim Miller.

Contracts on half of the 31.3 million acres of land currently under CRP will expire by fall 2012 – 4.5 million acres this year, 4.4 million acre in 2011 and 6.5 million acres in 2012.

"No decision has been made at this point in time how we will deal with acres that may be expiring in future years," Miller says.

Land currently not enrolled in CRP may be offered in this sign-up provided all eligibility requirements are met. Additionally, current CRP participants with contracts expiring this fall may make new contract offers. Contracts awarded under this sign-up are scheduled to become effective Oct. 1, 2010.

FSA will evaluate and rank eligible CRP offers using an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) for 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. Decisions on the EBI cutoff will be made after the sign-up ends and after analyzing the EBI data of all the offers.

Those who would have met previous sign-up EBI thresholds are not guaranteed a contract under this sign-up. In addition to the general sign-up, CRP's continuous sign-up program will be ongoing.

To help ensure that interested farmers and ranchers are aware of the sign-up period, USDA has signed partnership agreements with several conservation and wildlife organizations, which will play an active role in USDA's 2010 CRP outreach efforts. Additionally, Secretary Vilsack has recorded two public service announcements.