U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today called attention to the new general enrollment season for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's voluntary conservation program that sets aside farmland to enhance grasslands, control erosion and improve water quality.
General enrollment for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will open March 12 and extend to April 6. CRP was created by Congress in the 1985 Farm Bill as a voluntary, incentive-based program to support agriculture and livestock producers who agree to set aside environmentally sensitive land for conservation purposes. In exchange, selected participants receive rental payments, as well as cost-share and technical assistance.
"Mississippi farmers and ranchers have used the Conservation Reserve Program to dedicate some of their acreage to enhance wildlife habitats and improve areas prone to erosion. The fact that the program is voluntary and involves support from the Agriculture Department and its partners makes this a successful conservation program. I believe there will be significant support for renewing the program in a new farm bill," Cochran said.
CRP applications from this new general sign-up session will be processed for contracts that will become effective this fall. Applications will be judged on a variety of environmental benefit requirements that include, among other things, benefits to wildlife habitat, water quality, erosion control and cost. As part of the CRP program, producers agree to plant resource-conserving vegetation on enrolled acreage.
Cochran serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee that this week conducted a hearing titled "Strengthening Conservation Through the 2012 Farm Bill." At this hearing, Farm Service Agency administrator Bruce Nelson testified that CRP today encompasses 29.7 million acres of "grasses, trees, riparian buffers, filter strips, restored wetlands and high-value wildlife habitat."
In Mississippi, more than 850,000 acres were under CRP contracts in 2011--ranging from over 43,000 acres in Panola County to 167 acres in Greene County.
In its proposed FY2013 budget, the Obama administration recommends capping the program at 30 million acres nationwide, 2 million acres lower than authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.