Vilsack announces conservation expansion

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the opportunity for producers to enroll a total of 1 million acres of

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

land in a new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative to preserve grasslands and wetlands at Commodity Classic. USDA’s 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 the Obama Administration, USDA has enrolled more than 8 million acres in CRP. The goal of the new CRP grasslands and wetlands initiative is to increase enrollment of environmentally sensitive land through targeted signups. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers CRP, will set aside acres within the 32-million acre program for specific enrollments that benefit duck nesting habitat, upland birds, wetlands, pollinators and wildlife.

“By focusing 1 million acres of CRP on grasslands and wetlands, this initiative will have enormous benefits for farmers, sportsmen, and all Americans,” Vilsack said. “CRP is one of our nation’s most valuable and vital conservation efforts, ensuring cleaner air and water, preventing soil erosion, and enhancing economic opportunity in rural America by supporting recreation and tourism. With high crop prices, this approach to target our most sensitive lands is essential if we want to maintain the substantial benefits of CRP while ensuring that productive farm lands continue to produce the food and fiber Americans and the world needs.”

Rather than wait for a general sign-up (the process under which most CRP acres are enrolled), producers whose land meet eligibility criteria can enroll directly in this “continuous” category at any time. Some of the changes brought on by the expansion will take place immediately and some will be initiated in the coming months. Changes include:

 

New continuous pollinator practice – 100,000 additional acres

A new continuous practice to permit producers to develop pollinator habitat for many pollinator species.

 

Increase acreage for wetland restoration – 200,000 additional acres

Two practices will expand that are designed to restore wetlands that are both within a 100-year floodplain and outside of a100-year floodplain. Last year’s floods were a strong reminder of the value of wetlands in absorbing storm water and slowing run-off.

Restoration of critical grassland ecosystems

This initiative targets areas that can restore important habitats to protect threatened and/or endangered species, candidate species, or species of significant social/economic importance. The restoration work would be done through the following existing practices and sub-initiatives.

Provide greater incentives for continuous CRP

To encourage producers to sign up their most environmentally valuable acres FSA will increase the Signing Incentive Payments (SIPs) to $150 per acre from the current level of $100 per acre. The incentive is offered on most continuous practices and will include wetland restorations, pollinators and upland bird habitat.

Recently, USDA announced two additional CRP sign-ups: a four-week general sign-up beginning on March 12 and ending on April 6; and a continuous sign-up for Highly Erodible Cropland beginning this summer, which seeks to protect the nation’s most environmentally sensitive lands. The Highly Erodible Cropland initiative permits landowners to enroll up to 750,000 acres of land with an Erodibility Index (EI) of 20 or greater.

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