In the fall of 2005, USDA announced that some land owners will have the opportunity to extend or re-enroll certain existing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts that will be expiring during 2007 – 2010. A total of 400,000 CRP contracts in the U.S., representing over 28 million acres, are scheduled to expire during that four-year period. Currently, there are a total of 35.8 million acres in the U.S. that are under a CRP contract.
The CRP program is a voluntary program that was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill designed to help landowners protect environmentally sensitive farmland. Producers sign a CRP contract to take cropland out of production for a 10- or 15-year period, and agree to plant those acres to a USDA approved conservation plant cover. In return, USDA pays the land owners a per acre CRP rental rate that is comparable to average crop land cash rental rates in a region, and provides cost-share assistance for establishing the long-term plant cover on the CRP acres.
Details On CRP Extensions
All CRP contracts that expire from Sept. 30, 2007 through Sept. 30, 2010 are eligible for the CRP extensions or re-enrollment. However, 15-year CRP contracts expiring on September 30, 2007 cannot be extended.
The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) will determine which expiring CRP contracts are eligible to be extended or re-enrolled. FSA will base this decision on the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) at the time the original CRP contract was established. EBI is a ranking of the CRP land’s potential to improve soil erosion, water quality, wildlife habitat, and air quality. Each parcel of land that is under a CRP contract has a current EBI score that was determined based on the factors listed. This decision will also be based on the expiring CRP contract land’s location relative to established National priority areas that contain land with significant adverse water quality and wildlife habitat issues, which includes the so-called “Prairie Pothole” region of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Eligible CRP contract holders may re-enroll or extend all or any portion of the land that is currently under the existing CRP contract. However, there won’t be an opportunity to increase the number of acres under the new or extended CRP contract.
Contracts for CRP extensions or re-enrollment will be offered in five separate groups, based on the EBI score of the original CRP contract. The 20 percent of the CRP contract holders with the highest EBI scores will be eligible to re-enroll their land into new 10 year CRP contracts. CRP contracts that contain restored wetlands could be re-enrolled for a new 15 year CRP contract. The next 20 percent of the expiring CRP contracts, based on EBI scores, would be eligible for a 5 year CRP contract extension. The third 20 percent of expiring CRP contracts would be eligible for a 4 year CRP contract extension. The fourth 20 percent of expiring CRP contracts would be eligible for a 3 year CRP contract extension and the remaining CRP contracts that are expiring would be eligible for a two year CRP contract extension.
FSA will be updating CRP per acre rental rates on all land that is re-enrolled into a new 10 year CRP contract. These rental rates will be adjusted to reflect current cropland cash rental rates in a given region. In many cases, this will result in an increased CRP rental rate for the new CRP contracts. However, there are certain areas of the U.S. where current CRP rental rates are higher than average cropland rental rates, which could result in the new CRP rental rates being set lower. Existing CRP contracts that are extended for five, four, three or two years will receive the same CRP per acre rental rate that exists on the current CRP contract.
For all existing CRP contracts that are extended, FSA will be conducting site visits to make sure that the plant cover on the CRP land is being maintained according to the existing conservation plan, and that the CRP land parcel is free of noxious weeds and harmful insects or pests. Any violations must be corrected before a CRP contract can be extended or re-enrolled into a new CRP contract. A new conservation plan will be developed on CRP land that is re-enrolled into a new 10 or 15 year CRP contract.
The CRP statute generally limits CRP enrollment to no more than 25 percent of the total cropland acreage in a given county. FSA will be reviewing this limitation as part of the CRP contract re-enrollment and extension process.
For more information on options for contract extensions or re-enrollment of expiring CRP contracts, land owners should contact their County FSA Office, or go to the FSA Web Site at : www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/default.htm.
Editors note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at email@example.com.