|By JANE HOUIN
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With a deadline of April 14, producers have less than two weeks remaining to submit applications for this year’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). And for 20 years, producers have been able to take advantage of this program to improve conservation and rack up an impressive list of accomplishments.
“It is our duty to maintain and properly care for the land, not only for today, but for future generations,” said John Lenhart, a Shelby County, Ohio producer and long-time CRP advocate who has enrolled 80.7 of the 600 acres he owns and operates into the program.
He calls the program a win-win effort for the farmer and all the citizens downstream from his operation, resulting in cleaner water, reduced sedimentation and enhanced wildlife habitats.
In its 20-year history, CRP has restored 1.8 million acres of wetlands and 2 million more ducks survive each year because of the natural shelter this provides. In addition, it prevents 450 million tons of soil from eroding each year.
“The rewards of farmland conservation extend well beyond farms and into our daily lives,” said Teresa Lasseter, FSA administrator.
“We all depend on fresh air, clean water and an abundant, safe food supply. CRP and the related federal/state partnerships of the Conservation reserve Enhancement Program help ensure the protection of our basic and vital resources.”
CRP participants voluntarily enroll highly erodible and other fragile cropland in CRP through long-term contracts of 10-15 years. On the enrolled land, participants plant grasses, trees and other vegetation.
In exchange, participants receive annual rental payments and a payment of up to 50 percent of the cost of establishing conservation covers.
For example, on Lenhart’s 80 acres, he utilized trees, grasses and filter strips. He also has acres in grass waterways and has enrolled acreage in the new Wildlife Habitat Buffer practice. Additional conservation practices the 2004 Shelby County Conservation Farmer of the year award winner uses include a diversion and Water and Sediment Control Basin, combination practice to detail runoff, development of a sallow water wildlife area, seeding natural grass prairie, no-till, conservation tillage and tree planting.
There is limited acreage available for enrollment in CRP. FSA encourages landowners to work with their local FSA office to maximize the environmental benefits of their CRP offers.
During the last CRP general sign-up, held Aug. 30 to Sept. 24, 1004, enrollment offers were highly competitive.
Of the 1.7 million acres offered, FSA selected 1.2 million acres that offered the greatest environmental benefits. Offers accepted during this sign-up will become effective Oct. 1.
Jeffery Mallet of LaRue, Ohio, farms the land bordering the Scioto River that his great-great grandfather settled for the rich and fertile soil arable even in years of low rainfall.
But today, Mallet says the river is like a nursery rhyme: when it stays within its bank, it is very, very good, but when it floods it is horrid.
Mallet believe the Scioto River Conservation Reserve Program is the answer, alleviating the anxiety and financial burden to river-bottom farmers.
By enrolling in the program, Mallet will no longer be dealing with multi-planting and crop production on the enrolled acreage, and there will be far less washing away of the rich top soil. No longer will he have the expense of high-rate crop insurance for his flood sensitive land, but the program will provide him with the financial assistance to cover his real estate taxes.
With a current enrollment of 36 million acres in CRP, the program is nearing the maximum allowable acres of 39.2 million.
As in previous general sign-ups, FSA will evaluate eligible CRP offers with the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI), a ranking of the land’s contribution to improving soil retention, water quality, wildlife habitat and air quality.
FSA will determine the EBI cutoff after the sign-up period ends by analyzing the EBI factors of all offers.
Since the EBI cutoff used in previous sign-ups may be different for this sign-up, those who met previous EBI threshold are not guaranteed a contract under this sign-up.
The Thomas family of Paulding County, Ohio hope to expand their enrollments in CRP and the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
Sarah Thomas and two of her five daughters have nearly half of their combined 261 acres dedicated to conservation usage.
Terri Thomas has enrolled more than 25 acres in wetlands that attract migratory birds and water foul like ducks, geese and wild swans. Her sister Tracie Thomas has enrolled over 40 acres in wetlands and plant to involve her sister Tonya in the business of creating wildlife habitats.
Terri, Tracie, Tonya and their mother Sarah plan to plant hardwood trees that will add diversity to the habitat and serve as a haven for deer and other animals that access the wetlands for water.
The family wants to provide future generations with bountiful wetlands and woodlands that foster a natural balance of flora and fauna.
In addition to general sign-up, producers may enroll the most environmentally sensitive land in the CRP continuous sign-up and other CRP initiatives.
For more information on these initiatives and the general sign-up is available at local FSA offices and online at www.fsa.usda.gov
This farm news was published in the April 5, 2006 issue of Farm World.