Reversing CRP trend and filling acreage cap remain priorities of The Habitat Organization
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the acceptance of 2.8 million acres into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) so far in 2021. The positive news will help stem the tide of the 3 million acres also set to expire from contract on September 30th. The Habitat Organization remains focused on advocating for additional CRP signup opportunities and increased incentives to assist the nation’s private landowners and agricultural communities in meeting a 27-million-acre program cap by the end of fiscal year 2023. CRP remains the country’s single most effective conservation tool creating wildlife habitat, improving water quality, protecting soil health, ensuring climate resiliency, and safeguarding robust rural economies.
“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are thankful to USDA for implementing much-needed administrative changes to CRP earlier this year which made it a viable option again for our nation’s farmers, ranchers and landowners,” said Jim Inglis, Director of Government Affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “But make no mistake about it, a lot more CRP acres are needed to help landowners address resource concerns throughout the country – especially those affecting grassland birds. We look forward to working with USDA officials and Congressional leadership to help be a catalyst for the nation’s leading conservation program.”
Like other USDA conservation programs, CRP is a voluntary program that has a variety of options that can be tailored to the specific conservation issues of a state or region and desires of the landowner. The options run the gamut from working lands such as CRP Grasslands to partnerships with states and private entities to target a specific joint concern such as water quality or quantity, or specific wildlife species such as pheasants or quail.
“Despite Congress raising the enrollment target in the 2018 Farm Bill, there have been decreases in enrollment for the past two years. The changes we made this spring have put us on the path to reverse this trend,” FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said. “Even with the improved direction, USDA will still be about four million acres below the enrollment target. The CRP benefits for producers, sportsmen, wildlife, conservation and climate are numerous and well documented. We cannot afford to let them to be left on the table.”
USDA estimates that a 4-million-acre shortfall in CRP would have the following impacts across the United States:
- More than 359,000 acres less annual forage under CRP Grasslands;
- A loss of 1,500,000 acres of quality wildlife and pollinator less habitat for wildlife;
- 20% fewer apiaries in major production regions meeting critical forage thresholds;
- A loss of more than 4 million upland game and other grassland birds;
- About 90 million pounds of nitrogen entering waterways;
- Over 30 million tons of soil eroded, leading to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers; and
- Foregone sequestration of more than 3 million metric tons of CO2.
Continuous CRP Signup
Continuous CRP allows USDA to target the most sensitive land like highly erodible land, the most environmentally beneficial land like wetlands and buffers along streams and rivers, or locally identified critical habitat like State Acres For Wildlife. This targeted approach also reduces the whole-farm type enrollment in CRP that was more common when it first began and helps meet the conservation goals while maintaining the majority of the land in production agriculture. FSA has accepted offers from nearly 37,000 producers to enroll more than 883,000 acres through the Continuous Signup. This is double the enrollment from last year and three times the enrollment from 2018 and 2019. FSA expects this process to be completed by the end of September so contracts may start on October 1, 2021.
The growth in the targeted enrollment through Continuous Signup is due to a recommitment of USDA to incentives and partnerships that brought in nearly 1.4 million acres in 2016 and 2017. These efforts have also included the expansion of the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rives Initiative 30-year (CLEAR30) from two regions to nationwide as well as moving State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices from the General to the Continuous signup. This year, offers for 20,000 acres have been submitted for CLEAR30 and 287,000 acres in SAFE practices.
General CRP Signup
FSA opened the General CRP Signup 56 in January 2021 and extended the original deadline to July 23, 2021, to enable producers to consider FSA’s new improvements to the program, which included higher rental payments and more incentivized environmental practices.
Additionally, FSA introduced a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This incentive provides a 3%, 5% or 10% incentive payment based on the predominate vegetation type for the practices enrolled – from grasses to trees to wetland restoration.
Through CRP, producers and landowners establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. In addition to the other well-documented benefits, lands enrolled in CRP is playing a key role in mitigating impacts from climate change.
A full list of changes to CRP, including those to the Continuous and General Signups, can be found in our “What’s New with CRP” fact sheet.
The 2018 Farm Bill established a nationwide acreage limit for CRP, with the total number of acres that may be enrolled capped at 25 million acres in 2021 and growing to 27 million by 2023.
About Pheasants Forever
Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 138,000 members and 760 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Since creation in 1982, Pheasants Forever has spent over $950 million on 560,000 habitat projects benefiting 20 million acres nationwide. In fact, more than 210,000 of those acres are now permanently protected as public lands.