USDA's Farm Service Agency recently announced a multiyear $10 million initiative aimed at quantifying the benefits of Conservation Reserve Program contracts.

"CRP is one of the world’s largest voluntary conservation programs, with an established track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon, reducing nitrogen runoff and providing healthy habitat for wildlife," FSA said in announcing the program.

The initiative is meant to enable CRP to target climate outcomes while furthering USDA’s goal of putting American agriculture and forestry at the forefront of climate-smart solutions.

“Nearly 21 million acres currently enrolled in the program prevent the equivalent of more than 12 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere,” said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. “Further quantifying program benefits will allow us to better target CRP to achieve continued climate wins across environmentally sensitive lands while strengthening our modeling and conservation planning resources for all producers.”

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In the past, FSA has collaborated with partners to create Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation projects to quantify the benefits of CRP to water conditions, wildlife and rural economies. Now, FSA will invest $10 million through this program “to measure and monitor the soil carbon sequestration and other climate and environmental benefits of conservation practices over the life of CRP contracts.”

Beyond better targeting climate outcomes, this initiative will supply USDA with data that will improve its quantification methods used for its current models and tools. For example, the Daily Century Model simulates carbon and nitrogen movements through agricultural systems and compiles data for the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The initiative’s quantification improvements can better inform models like this one.

USDA is requesting project proposals for quantifying the climate benefits of land enrolled in CRP over time. It is specifically interested in land types that are predominantly perennial grass with legumes and shrubs, trees, or wetland. USDA will be accepting applications till July 2.

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