USDA opened sign-up for the Highly Erodible Land Initiative under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The purpose of this initiative, announced by Secretary Vilsack in February, is to protect up to 750,000 acres of the nation’s most highly erodible croplands. Producers may enroll at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county office. Enrollment will continue until the 750,000 acre limit has been met.
“CRP is an important program with more than 25 years of success in protecting the nation’s natural resources through voluntary participation,” said Vilsack. “We are excited to include this new initiative that targets the most fragile cropland, in addition to other targeted initiatives that are currently available under the CRP.”
CRP is a voluntary program designed to help farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers protect their environmentally sensitive land. Currently, 29.6 million acres are enrolled in CRP. Through this Highly Erodible Land Initiative, eligible landowners receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible cropland for a period of 10 years. Croplands with an Erodibility Index of 20 or greater are eligible for enrollment.
In March, Secretary Vilsack announced an increase of 1 million acres of land in a new CRP Initiative to Restore Grasslands, Wetlands and Wildlife. On June 12, a portion of the 1 million acres available for the initiative were allocated. Initiatives receiving acres are: Wetland Restoration, 200,000 acres; Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (Quail), 150,000 acres; Duck Nesting Habitat, 150,000 acres; and Pollinator Habitat, 100,000 acres. Sign-up for the Pollinator Habitat initiative began on June 12 as part of the continuous sign-up criteria.
CRP has a quarter-century 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.