FSA programs explained: Conservation Reserve Program sign-up | TSLN.com

FSA programs explained: Conservation Reserve Program sign-up

For the February 12, 2011 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced that it will hold a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) sign-up from March 14 through April 15, 2011. CRP is a voluntary program that helps agricultural producers use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. Producers enrolling in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to control soil erosion, improve water and air quality and develop wildlife habitat. In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.

Producers may submit their offers at their local FSA service center beginning March 14 through April 15, 2011. In order to be eligible to submit an offer, producers must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to April 15, 2011, unless the producer can show that they did not acquire the land for the purpose of placing it in CRP.

Land eligible to be enrolled in CRP must have a cropping history during the 2002 to 2007 crop years. This means that the cropland has been planted or considered planted to an agricultural commodity four out of six years during that period. Alfalfa and other multi-year grasses are eligible to be considered planted during that period as long as they are grown in a rotation not to exceed 12 years.

Additionally, in order for land to be considered eligible, the land must meet one of the following criteria: a weighted average erosion index of eight or higher, be an expiring CRP acreage, or be located in a national or state CRP conservation priority area.

If you have land eligible to be enrolled in CRP, take the following steps to submit your offer. First you should attend a local CRP workshop or meet with your local Natural Resources Conservation Service and determine exactly what types of practices you are willing to do as part of your offer. Remember, CRP offers are ranked based upon their environmental benefits. Producers can increase their environmental benefit index (EBI) scores based upon what types of practice they are willing to install. Once you know what type of offer you are going to submit, you should then meet with your local FSA office and present them with the land you are proposing to enroll. After you have submitted your offer, you need to meet with the conservation organization that will be developing your conservation plan. Your conservation plan is developed by the producer and the conservation organization and is designed to carry out the practices submitted in the CRP offer. The conservation plan has to be completed and approved before the CRP contract can be approved. CRP offers that do not have an approved conservation plan will not be approved.

Once the sign-up period has ended, all offers nationwide will be ranked based upon their environmental benefit index (EBI) score. FSA will determine the number of acres that will be accepted for this sign-up period and set the cutoff score accordingly. Therefore, the higher your EBI score, the more likely your CRP offer will be accepted.

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There are a couple ways to increase your EBI score and improve your chances of getting your CRP offer accepted. The first way to improve your score is to choose a conserving cover that is most beneficial to wildlife. The FSA awards higher scores for cover types that are more beneficial to wildlife. The second way to improve your EBI score is to selectively offer land that is most sensitive, such as a high erodibility factor or located in an approved water quality zone. Finally, if you wish to improve your EBI score, submitting an offer with a lower per acre rental rate will increase your EBI score.

If you are serious about enrolling your land into the CRP program, I recommend visiting with your local Farm Service Agency Service Center before sign-up begins or ask if a CRP workshop is being presented near you.

james neill is the county executive director for the farm service agency in meade county, south dakota and can be contacted at james.neill@sd.usda.gov. questions about the conservation reserve program or any other farm service agency program should be directed to your local farm service agency service center.