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Vilsack announces 3.9 million acres for CRP

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA will accept 3.9 million acres offered under the 43rd Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up.

USDA said in a news release that it had received nearly 48,000 offers on more than 4.5 million acres of land. Although many farmers have not been renewing contracts because they want to put the idled land back into production to earn income from higher commodity prices, USDA said the sign up rate demonstrated “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.”

USDA has enrolled nearly 12 million acres in the CRP since the Obama administration came into office in 2009, and there are more than 29.6 million acres enrolled under more than 736,000 contracts, the agency said.

The Senate version of the 2012 farm bill would reduce the number of acres allowed in the program from 32 million to 25 million, but contracts in place would continue until they run out.

USDA will continue targeting CRP acres through continuous sign-up initiatives —including those announced earlier this year for highly-erodible land, as well as grasslands and wetlands, the agency said. USDA is trying to convince farmers and landowners to enroll 1.75 million acres under those signups.

For the first continuous sign-up program, USDA encourages landowners with land that has an Erosion Index 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 improves habitat, reduces sediment and nutrient runoff and reduces wind erosion, the agency said.

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.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said it was pleased by the enrollment, but worried by the overall decline in acreage in the Northern Plains.

“The conservation of close to 4 million additional acres of our nation’s agricultural land is an accomplishment worth applauding — and it underscores the need for congressional support of CRP in the next farm bill,” said Steve Kline, director of the TRCP Center for Agricultural and Private Lands.

“The gratifying success of this most recent CRP signup means that fish and wildlife, sportsmen — and rural America’s recreation-based economies — all stand to gain.”

Kline added that Congress should pass a new farm bill swiftly.

Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, both TRCP partner groups, noted that the Northern Plains will lose more than 1 million acres of CRP lands during the 2012 enrollment process.

“This development could dramatically impact pheasant and waterfowl populations, harm critical habitat, diminish water quality and reduce hunting and angling opportunities," Nomsen said.