The USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced its Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts for the 2012 fiscal year. Over 114,000 acres of marginal California farmland have been enrolled in the federal conservation program designed to increase wildlife habitat.
Since the program's inception 25 years ago, California CRP conservation contracts have earned over $144 million for rural property owners and producers, FSA officials say. Landowners who voluntarily enroll in CRP receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish sustainable cover crops on eligible farmland.
According to Val Dolcini, state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, Spring sign-up saw more than 38,000 CRP offers on 3.8 million acres nationwide. The USDA offered contracts on 2.8 million of these acres, raising the total program enrollment to just under 30 million acres. All offers were evaluated using an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) which ranks each parcel on the environmental benefits it would provide using five factors: water, wildlife, soil, air and enduring benefits and cost.
The program has maintained its success by:
“providing a low risk opportunity to implement a variety of conservation practices on environmentally sensitive land in California," says Dolcini. "CRP practices improve water and air quality, increase wildlife habitat and prevent soil erosion."
Larry Plumb, conservation specialist at the FSA, says the program allows California farmers to have an income stream for land that probably never should have been put under cultivation so they can concentrate on other productive land.
A CRP contract, which typically lasts 10 years, differs from a conservation easement, which is permanent. Easements, established with one lump-sum payment to a landowner, usually can be farmed, just not developed. Land that is bound under CRP agreement cannot be farmed, and grazing allowances are provided for only three of the years to control noxious weeds (except in emergency situations).
In a recent news release, the FSA has credited the CRP with reducing soil erosion by eight billion tons, restoring two million acres of wetlands and adjacent buffers, protecting more than 200,000 stream bank vegetation buffers, and significantly increasing wildlife numbers which translates to recreational dollars for rural economies.