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Grasslands enrollment in Conservation Reserve reaches 7 million acres

The Agriculture Department said it would enroll more than 3.1 million acres of grasslands — the largest amount ever — in the Conservation Reserve Program this fall, underlining the transformation of the reserve into a working lands program. The CRP was created in 1985 during an agricultural recession as a cropland retirement program.

The new enrollments would be part of 7 million acres that entered through the Grassland option, meant to preserve grazing lands. Some 8 million acres of the Conservation Reserve entered under so-called continuous enrollment for high-priority projects, such as windbreaks and filter strips, on relatively small tracts.

So-called general enrollment, for entire fields or large blocks of land, accounted for less than half of Conservation Reserve acreage, although the large-scale enrollments are perhaps the best-known feature of the program. With commodity prices at high levels, landowners have shown limited interest in the long-term contracts for idling land in the Conservation Reserve.

There were 22.1 million acres in the Conservation Reserve at latest count, below the current ceiling of 25.5 million acres. Enrollment could rise to 23.8 million acres in the new fiscal year, according to an unofficial tally.

On Sept. 30, contracts expire on 3.9 million acres while 5.6 million acres would enter the reserve, including 3.1 million through the grasslands option, 2 million through a general signup held months ago, and 464,000 through continuous signup, said the USDA.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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