WASHINGTON, June 4, 2014 – Farmers and ranchers who wish to sign up for the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can do so starting on June 9. In a news release, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also described incentives available to retiring farmers with acreage enrolled in CRP who transfer a portion of their land to beginning, disadvantaged or veteran farmers.
CRP provides incentives to producers who use conservation methods on environmentally-sensitive lands. For example, farmers are monetarily compensated for establishing long-term vegetative species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as “cover”) to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.
“CRP is one of the largest voluntary conservation programs in the country,” Vilsack said in a news release. “This initiative helps farmers and ranchers lead the nation in preventing soil erosion, improving water quality and restoring wildlife habitat, all of which will make a difference for future generations.”
CRP has two types of sign-up periods, “continuous” and “general,” and it is the “continuous” sign-up that starts June 9. Under continuous sign-up authority, eligible land can be enrolled in CRP at any time with contracts of up to 10 to 15 years in duration.
In lieu of a “general” sign-up this year, USDA will allow producers with general CRP contracts expiring in September to have the option of a one-year contract extension. USDA will also implement the 2014 Farm Bill's requirement that producers enrolled through general sign-up for more than five years can exercise the option to opt out of the program if certain other conditions are met. In addition, the new grassland provisions, which will allow producers to graze their enrolled land, will enable producers to do so with more flexibility.
Sign-up for the Transition Incentives Program (TIP) also starts June 9. TIP provides two additional years of payments for retired farmers and ranchers who transition expiring CRP acres to socially disadvantaged, military veteran, or beginning producers who return the land to sustainable grazing or crop production. TIP funding was increased by more than 30 percent in the 2014 Farm Bill, providing up to $33 million through 2018.
“The average age of farmers and ranchers in the United States is 58 years, and twice as many are 65 or older compared to those 45 or younger.” Vilsack said in the release. “The cost of buying land is one of the biggest barriers to many interested in getting started in agriculture. The Transition Incentives Program is very useful as we work to help new farmers and ranchers get started."
Both programs were authorized by the new Farm Bill. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers CRP, will coordinate the various CRP program opportunities. For more information on CRP and other FSA programs, go to www.fsa.usda.gov.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauded the USDA for restarting the CRP sign-up. At the same time, it urged FSA to set a goal of 500,000 new conservation buffer acres each year for the next five years through all of the continuous sign-up periods.
NSAC also called for a major outreach effort to alert CRP landowners with expiring contracts to the opportunity of enrolling land in the continuous sign-up options even as they return major parts of the farm to production. It said the effort should also inform landowners of the enhanced opportunity under the 2014 Farm Bill to transition land from the CRP to long-term contracts under the Conservation Stewardship Program, to help maximize conservation values as land is put back into production.
The group noted that the TIP program had been dormant for over two years while the new farm bill was being completed.
“The restart is therefore particularly welcome at this time, and we suspect it will pick up right where it left off, with a very high degree of interest in the farming community,” it said.
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