Monday, August 15, 2022

USDA Expands and Renews Conservation Reserve Program

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STATEWIDE — On Friday, April 23, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will open up the ability to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which will include more targeted focus on the program’s role in combating climate change, and provide new incentives with higher payment rates.

In addition to this announcement, USDA announced investments in partnerships which will increase “climate-smart” agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects as well as $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials.

“Sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you,” said R. Kevin Bohon, state executive director, Virginia USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). “With CRP, the United States has one of the world’s most unsuccessful voluntary conservation programs. We need to invest in CRP and let it do what it does best — preserve topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the impacts of climate change.”

USDA has set a goal to enroll up to 4 million new acres into CRP. In by doing this, rental payment rates will be raised and the number of incentivized government practices allowed under the program will be expanded.

Additionally, FSA is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP, which aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Practices for this program would include: establishment of trees and permanent grasses, development of wildlife habitat, and restoration of Virginia’s wetlands. This program would be annual and the amount will be determined by the benefits of each practice type.

Below are some additional details provided to WYDaily by FSA regarding these programs:

Higher Rental Rates and New Incentives

In 2021, CRP is capped at 25 million acres, and currently 20.8 million acres are enrolled. Furthermore, the cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023. To help increase producer interest and enrollment, FSA is:

• Adjusting soil rental rates. This enables additional flexibility for rate adjustments, including a possible increase in rates where appropriate.
• Increasing payments for Practice Incentives from 20% to 50%. This incentive for continuous CRP practices is based on the cost of establishment and is in addition to cost share payments.
• Increasing payments for water quality practices. Rates are increasing from 10% to 20% for certain water quality benefiting practices available through the CRP continuous signup, such as grassed waterways, riparian buffers, and filter strips.
• Establishing a CRP Grassland minimum rental rate. This benefits more than 1,300 counties with rates currently below the minimum.

Enhanced Natural Resource Benefits

To boost impacts for natural resources, FSA is:

• Moving State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices to the CRP continuous signup. Unlike the general signup, producers can sign up year-round for the continuous signup and be eligible for additional incentives.
• Establishing National Grassland Priority Zones. This aims to increase enrollment of grasslands in migratory corridors and environmentally sensitive areas.
• Making Highly Erodible Land Initiative (HELI) practices available in both the general and
continuous signups.

Expanding Prairie Pothole Soil Health and Watershed Programs

CRP has two pilot programs ― the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP) and the Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers 30-year contracts (CLEAR30).

• For SHIPP, which is a short-term option (3, 4, or 5-year contracts) for farmers to plant cover on less productive agricultural lands, FSA will hold a 2021 signup in the Prairie Pothole states.
• The CLEAR30 pilot, a long-term option through CRP, will be expanded from the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay pilot regions to nationwide.

Increasing Technical Assistance Capacity and Impact Measurement

USDA technical assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is critical to enable producers to plan and implement conservation practices that are appropriate for their needs. To ensure increased enrollment and support for producers, USDA is increasing NRCS technical assistance capacity for CRP by $140 million.

Additionally, in order to better target the program toward climate outcomes, USDA will invest $10 million in the CRP Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation (MAE) program to measure and monitor the soil carbon and climate resilience impacts of conservation practices over the life of new CRP contracts. This will enable the agency to further refine the program and practices to provide producers tools for increased climate resilience.

Partnership Programs Contribute to Priorities

In addition to changes to CRP, Secretary Vilsack also announced significant investments for climate-smart policies. First, NRCS is investing $330 million in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to address climate change and other natural resources challenges. NRCS will announce more details on the RCPP project selections on April 26.

Second, NRCS is investing $25 million in proposals for On-Farm Trials, which are part of the Conservation Innovation Grants program. NRCS is seeking proposals through June 21. Project priorities include climate- smart agricultural solutions and soil health practices.

For more information on CRP, please visit the USDA’s fact sheet on the program by clicking here.

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