The Agriculture Department is accepting 2.8 million acres into the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program, an enrollment far short of the 4 million acres the Biden administration was aiming for as part of its effort to use farmers to help reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

About 1.9 million acres will be enrolled as part of the general signup that ended in July, and another 897,000 acres were accepted under the continuous signup rules, USDA's Farm Service Agency said Monday.

Additional acreage is expected to be enrolled through the continuous signup process and through the CRP Grasslands signup, which closed last week. 

But the program will likely remain well below the cap of 25.5 million acres set by the 2018 farm bill for fiscal 2022, which starts Oct. 1. About 20.6 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, and contracts on 3 million acres are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.

In conjunction with a White House climate summit this spring, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a series of financial incentives to help attract more CRP acreage. USDA offered a 10% “inflationary” adjustment to the county payment rates and also set a minimum payment rate for CRP grasslands of $15 an acre.

The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, alleged last month that the Biden administration improperly increased the payment rates and the resulting contracts may turn out to be invalid.

USDA also offered a "climate-smart practice" Incentive that provides a 3%, 5% or 10% incentive payment based on the predominate vegetation type for the practices enrolled in the program. 

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FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux on Monday acknowledged the enrollment was well short of the gap but noted that CRP enrollment had been shrinking for the past two years. “The changes we made this spring have put us on the path to reverse this trend,” he said.

The average payment rate for the 1.9 million acres accepted into the program through the general signup will be $53 per acre.

About 2 million acres were offered by landowners, so 100,000 acres were rejected by FSA. Offers were evaluated based on cost and a score of environmental benefits, according to an enrollment summary sent to state and local FSA offices.  The maximum possible environmental benefits index score was 545; a score of at least 175 was deemed generally acceptable.

However, scores of 165 were accepted in states that were considered to have historically low CRP enrollment: Alabama, California, Florida. Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

According to FSA, 33 counties will have at least 20% of their cropland taken out of production through CRP or through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Some 37.3% of the land in Bailey County, Texas, will be idled under one of the programs, the most of any county. Another west Texas county, Andrews, will have 33.7% out of production.

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