Producers and landowners will be able to start signing up for the Conservation Reserve Program at the end of the month, USDA announced Monday, as the department tries to expand the acreage to reach the 2018 farm bill’s goal for fiscal 2022.

The current enrollment totals 22.1 million acres, short of the 25.5-million-acre cap. The effort to boost enrollment also comes against a looming loss of more than 4 million acres at the end of September. 

Last year’s signup saw 4.6 million acres accepted into the program, including the largest-ever amount of grassland CRP acres, at 2.5 million acres. Landowners submitted offers of nearly 4 million acres for the grassland CRP. 

The 2022 signup for CRP will start Jan. 31 and run through March 11; the grassland portion of the program starts April 4 and ends May 13.

“We highly encourage farmers, ranchers and private landowners to consider the enrollment options available through CRP,” Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said. “Last year, we rolled out a better, bolder program, and we highly encourage you to consider its higher payment rates and other incentives. CRP is another way that we’re putting producers and landowners at the center of climate-smart solutions that generate revenue and benefit our planet.”

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Last year, the agency implemented a Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous signups, “to better target CRP on addressing climate change,” FSA said in a news release Monday. Such practices include establishing trees and permanent grasses, developing wildlife habitat and restoring wetlands. The annual incentive program pays producers based on the benefits of each practice type.

Grassland CRP is a working lands program, “helping landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland and pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as working grazing lands,” FSA said.

FSA noted it invested $10 million last year in a program “to measure and monitor the soil carbon and climate resilience impacts of conservation practices over the life of new CRP contracts,” which will help the agency “further refine the program and practices to provide producers tools for increased climate resilience.”

USDA's effort to enroll acres at higher payment rates last year drew Capitol Hill scrutiny from Senate Ag Committee ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark. In a July letter to Vilsack, Boozman said he was concerned "USDA is preparing to enter into questionable CRP contracts covering millions of acres that will leave the farming and financial plans of thousands of farmers and ranchers in disarray if and when these contracts are ruled out of compliance with the authorizing statute." 

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