Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will accept 3.9 million acres offered under the 43rd Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. During the extended five-week signup, the Department received nearly 48,000 offers on more than 4.5 million acres of land, demonstrating the CRP's continuing leadership as one of our nation's most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land and improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources. Under Vilsack's leadership, USDA has now enrolled nearly 12 million acres in the CRP since 2009. Currently, there are more than 29.6 million acres enrolled on more than 736,000 contracts.
"For more than 25 years, lands in CRP have helped to support strong incomes for our farmers and ranchers and produce good middle-class jobs throughout the country related to outdoor recreation, hunting, and fishing," said Vilsack. "As the commodities produced by our farmers and ranchers continue to perform strongly in the marketplace--supporting 1 out of every 12 jobs here in the United States--it is no surprise that American producers also recognize the importance of protecting our nation's most environmentally sensitive land by enrolling in CRP."
Enrollment of the new 3.9 million acres will allow USDA to continue important targeting of CRP acres through continuous sign-up initiatives--including those announced earlier this year for highly-erodible land, as well as grasslands and wetlands--while also maintaining and enhancing the significant benefits that the program has already achieved. The two continuous sign-ups announced earlier this year will target an additional 1.75 million acres in total.
For the first continuous sign-up program, USDA encourages landowners with land that has an Erosion Index (EI) of 20 or greater to consider participating in the Highly Erodible Land initiative. Lands eligible for this program are typically the least productive land on the farm. In many cases the most cost-effective option to reduce erosion is to put the land into a wildlife friendly cover, which will improve habitat and reduce sediment and nutrient runoff and reduce wind erosion. For the second continuous sign-up program, landowners with sensitive grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat are encouraged to participate. The grasslands and wetlands initiative increases acres set aside for specific enrollments that benefit duck nesting habitat, upland birds, wetlands, and wildlife, and provides benefits for specific conservation practices, including new benefits for pollinator practices.
CRP is a voluntary program designed to help farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers protect their environmentally sensitive land. Eligible landowners receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of 10 to 15 year contracts.
CRP has a 25-year legacy of successfully protecting the nation's natural resources through voluntary participation, while providing significant economic and environmental benefits to rural communities across the United States. Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams or rivers. The plantings prevent soil and nutrients from washing into waterways, reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality, and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Plant cover established on the acreage accepted into the CRP will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff in our nation's rivers and streams. In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds respectively. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduces soil erosion by more than 300 million tons per year. CRP also provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners--dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. In addition, CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.
USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors are: (1) wildlife enhancement, (2) water quality, (3) soil erosion, (4) enduring benefits, and (5) air quality. The minimal acceptable EBI level for this sign-up was 209. The average rental rate per acre for this sign-up is $51.24.
In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion. Moreover, the Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, implement the Farm Bill, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers.