Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that starting Jan. 31 USDA will begin notifying certain agricultural producers with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts expiring in 2007 that they may extend or re-enroll their contracts.

"Approximately 16 million acres subject to CRP contracts expire in 2007," says Johanns. "Fulfilling President Bush's directive to allow eligible farmers and ranchers to re-enroll or extend their CRP contracts helps ensure that the quality of soil, water, air and wildlife benefits of CRP continue across the nation for years to come."

Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices will begin notifying certain CRP participants by mail with expiring contracts in 2007 if they are eligible for re-enrollments or two- to five-year extensions. Participants eligible for re-enrollment will be offered a 10- or 15-year contract provided there are restored wetlands on the original land enrolled in the contract. Fifteen-year contracts expiring Sept. 30, 2007, are not eligible for extension.

FSA used the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) to determine eligibility for CRP re-enrollments or extensions. Additional credit was considered for contracts within national CRP conservation priority areas. The EBI addresses expected benefits to water quality, erosion, enduring benefits, air quality and wildlife habitat.

FSA ranked individual contracts into one of five tiers based on the environmental benefits of the original EBI score. Eligible participants ranking in the first tier (i.e. between 81-100 percent) of the EBI will be afforded the opportunity to re-enroll their land in new contracts. Farmers and ranchers with wetlands in this top tier ranking are eligible for a 15-year contract.

Eligible participants ranking in the second tier (i.e. between 61-80 percent) may extend their CRP contracts for five years. Eligible participants ranking within the third tier (i.e. between 41-60 percent) may extend their CRP contracts by four years. Eligible participants ranking in the fourth tier (i.e. between 21-40 percent) may receive three-year extensions. Eligible participants ranking in the bottom tier may extend their contracts by two years.

Before approving a re-enrollment contract or an extended contract, FSA will review the contract to ensure that the required cover is maintained and there is compliance with other contract provisions. In addition, to be eligible, participants must be able to show that they meet eligibility requirements for the new enrollment period. In the case of re-enrollments, updated rental rates will apply.

USDA also announces today that a general CRP sign-up will be held this spring. Farmers and ranchers will be able to make offers for CRP's competitive general sign-up from March 27, 2006, through April 14, 2006, at their local FSA offices. Offers for general sign-up will be evaluated based on five environmental factors (wildlife, water, soil, air and enduring benefits) and cost.

CRP is a voluntary program that helps farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers protect their environmentally sensitive land. Producers enrolling in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers, with Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) providing rental payments, cost-share and technical assistance.

For more information on CRP, contact your local FSA office or visit the FSA Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm.