The Conservation Reserve Program

In 2013, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is celebrating its 27th anniversary, and over two and a half decades of conservation success. CRP was originally established in the 1985 Farm Bill, and today has over 390,000 landowners participating, most of which are farmers and ranchers, and currently has just over 27.0 million acres under some-type of CRP contracts. Another General CRP will be held in 2013, with the sign-up period from May 20 through June 14, 2013, at local FSA Offices.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited the CRP program as the largest and most important conservation program in recent decades in this Country. CRP continues to make major contributions to national efforts to improve water and air quality, prevent soil erosion, protect environmentally sensitive land, and enhance wildlife populations, Some of the benefits of the CRP program over the past two and a half decades cited by USDA include :

450 million tons of soil erosion reduced annually.

Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into rivers, streams, and lakes in the U.S.

2 million acres of wetlands and buffers restored.

2 million acres of stream bank protected along rivers and streams.

Enhanced populations of ducks, pheasants, quail, and other wildlife species.

CRP provides over $1.8 billion per year to private landowners, which are dollars that help support local businesses and the local economy.

CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the U.S. In 2012, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 9 million cars off the road.

There are currently 45 Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) in 33 States

in targeted watersheds, which has generated over $ 1 billion in additional State and private funds for Federal conservation efforts through CRP.

There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the level of acres will be offered or accepted for re-enrollment into the CRP program during the 2013 sign-up period. The current CRP acreage cap is 32 million acres, which was set by the 2008 Farm Bill, which was a reduction from the maximum CRP acreage in the U.S. of 39 million acres from 2002-2008. The 32 million acre CRP cap was maintained for 2013, due to the Farm Bill Extension that was passed by Congress earlier this year, and signed by President Obama. Both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House Agriculture Committee versions of a new Farm Bill that were passed in 2012 called for the maximum level of CRP acreage to be reduced down to 25 million acres for the next five years. Most likely, when the next Farm Bill is reconsidered later this year, the maximum CRP acreage will stay near 25 million acres.

General CRP contracts are usually 10-year contracts that expire September 30th in a given year, while Continuous CRP contracts and CREP contracts are usually 10-15 year contracts also expiring on September 30 of a given year. Following are the expiring CRP acres on September 30th each year for the next five years :

2013 – 3.3 million acres

2014 – 2.0 million acres

2015 – 1.7 million acres

2016 – 1.2 million acres

2017 – 2.6 million acres

Over 70 percent of the CRP acres in the U.S. are in eleven States, which are Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Washington, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, and South Dakota. In recent years a larger percentage of acres from expiring CRP contracts have been returned back to production in the Upper Midwest and Plains States, compared to other areas of the U.S. In 2012, over 3.2 million acres of expiring CRP land was returned back to crop production, with over with over 10 million acres being returned to crop production since 2009.

(Kent Theisse MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal contributed to this article)

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