By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- Landowners nationally will enroll more than 3.4 million acres in the general sign-up of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) announced Thursday by USDA.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced USDA had accepted offers on more than 3.4 million acres and county Farm Service Agency offices will begin notifying landowners of accepted offers no later than April 3. This year is the first general sign-up for CRP since 2016.
"The Conservation Reserve Program is one of our nation's largest conservation endeavors and is critical in helping producers better manage their operations while conserving valuable natural resources," Perdue said. "The program marked its 35th anniversary this year, and we were quite pleased to see one of our largest signups in many years."
Under the 2018 farm bill, Congress bumped up acreage in CRP moving the cap to 24.5 million acres this year and eventually to 27 million acres by 2023.
CRP saw 800,000 acres expire from the program last fall, but as many as 5.2 million acres are set to expire this coming September.
USDA had strong interest in the latest general sign-up despite provisions in the 2018 farm bill that also capped rental rates at 85% of a county's current average rental rate.
While enrollment for the general sign-up ended Feb. 28, sign-ups are ongoing for continuous CRP, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), CRP Grasslands and the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP).
The SHIPP also has a pilot program available for producers in the Prairie Pothole region -- Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota -- and enrollment for that will start March 30. Under that program, producers have the option of three-, four- or five-year CRP contracts to establish cover crops on less productive cropland in exchange for payments. This pilot enables producers to plant cover crops that, among other benefits, will improve soil health and water quality while having the option to harvest, hay and graze during certain times of the year. Up to 50,000 acres can be enrolled. Rental rates for that program differ from general CRP as well.
The land can also be harvested for seed outside of the primary nesting season, in exchange for a 25% reduction in the annual rental rate and not being insured through federal crop insurance.
All USDA Service Centers are closed to walk-in visitors. USDA wants farmers to know they can set up phone appointments with the local Farm Service Agency or Natural Resources Conservation Service staffs who will work with farmers and landowners not just by phone but also email and other online tools.
FSA staff are continuing to work with producers for program sign-ups, servicing loans or other issues, FSA stated. Along with that, FSA also is relaxing some of its loan processing rules and adding some flexibility to servicing direct and guaranteed loans, which includes extending some deadlines.
FSA and NRCS also have forms and documents available at www.farmers.gov that are accessible with an eAuth account. There's also information for enrollment to set up an eAuth account.
USDA has more details on ways the department is managing through the coronavirus at https://www.farmers.gov/… .
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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