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CRP Quick Tour: The new signup
To bid or not to bid?
Our small farm in Buffalo County, Nebraska, includes about 80 acres of CRP, which has been in the program for 25 years. The current contract expires this fall, so we considered our options—to submit a new bid, or bring the land back into production.
New era for CRP
The new CRP places an even stronger emphasis on environmental and wildlife benefits, and the fiscal reality is that rental rates won’t be raised from last year’s levels. I walked the farm recently to take stock of the place and our plans for the CRP.
Back to crops?
The soils here are capable of growing good crops, such as on this corner of the quarter with CRP. Contracts on about 6.5 million acres of land currently in the CRP are set to expire on September 30, 2012. A good percentage of those acres were expected to return to cropland, USDA officials and market analysts have predicted.
The general sign-up was extended a week beyond the original April 6 deadline because of surprisingly “strong interest,” FSA Deputy Administrator Juan Garcia told me. “We want to ensure that all producers have ample time to enroll and submit a competitive bid,” he said. Another source said that the agency also had experienced computer software problems, causing delays in processing bids.
This aerial map view of the farm shows that our CRP ground is a kind of “environmental island,” as Dan Steinkruger, Nebraska FSA Executive Director, put it. "We need lands in production for food, but the CRP provides other benefits that are important, too," he said.
Based on the sign-up so far, Steinkruger told me he expects more than half of the state’s 200,000 plus expiring acres to be re-enrolled this fall. "We're pleasantly surprised in the re-enrollment given the strength in the ag economy. We are also seeing some interest in putting new land in the program,” he said.
For the birds and bees
To improve one’s bid score, landowners are encouraged to include plans for enhancing cover practices on enrolled land. If our bid is accepted, this strip of about eight acres will be planted to pollinator habitat -- flowers and shrubs. Another way to improve your chances of acceptance is to agree to a payment rate less than the maximum FSA is willing to offer.
In an earlier sign-up we planted trees, shrubs, and forbs in this area to improve the value of the cover for wildlife and soil conservation. The land is part of another contract, adding a bit of complexity to management of the tract.
Not your trees this time
One hitch in our decision to re-enroll came when we learned that land we planted to trees in the first sign-up was no longer eligible for the program. We may try to use another conservation program to provide compensation for these few idled acres.
Land in certain “priority zones” is given more weight in the bidding process. Ours is not in such a zone, despite being within twenty miles of the Platte River sandhill crane refuge. I heard the big birds calling overhead while walking the farm.
I joined birders watching the cranes along the Platte River. USDA recently announced two additional, continuous CRP initiatives, one aimed at preserving 1 million acres of grasslands and wetlands, another called the Highly Erodible Cropland initiative.
Take a first-hand look at how CRP changes are impacting one central Nebraska farm.