Family farm By Daniela Silva, government relations intern, National Farmers Union

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be accepting new applications starting December 1, 2015, through February 26, 2016, to participate in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Secretary Vilsack is specifically targeting the “800,000 additional acres of highly environmentally sensitive land” that may now be enrolled in CRP under certain wetland and wildlife initiatives. Some existing participants with contracts expiring on September 30, 2015 are eligible for a one-year extension to hold over to another sign up. CRP contract duration ranges from 10 to 15 years.

The CRP is a land conservation program signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Enrolled agricultural producers agree to withdraw environmentally sensitive land from production and instead plant species that will improve environmental health and quality in exchange for a yearly rental payment, saving producers the expense of farming marginal lands without completely foregoing income from the parcels. The CRP has helped farmers address or prevent soil erosion while also providing them with safety nets when revenues are unstable. Pheasant populations boomed after the implementation of CRP, as have other wildlife populations, allowing for surrounding communities to reap the economic benefits of hunting and wildlife tourism.

Secretary Vilsack states, “CRP is an extraordinary investment to make it easier for land owners to do what’s right for their land, and right for the environment, and for the wildlife. Building greater habitat and the economic opportunities that outdoor recreation presents helps to improve the local economy because these payments are obviously revolving around the local economy. All of that is an investment in rural America creating jobs and helping folks to stay on the farm.”

Prospective CRP participants can enroll through a competitive process known as CRP General Sign-Up. All enrollment offers are processed through your local FSA office. Additional information regarding CRP can be accessed at local FSA county offices. For online information about CRP, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation, or contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency office. To find your local FSA office, visit the FSA state office locator.

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