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258328

USDA Shuts Off Continuous Enrollment Option for Conservation Reserve Program

The Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to take fragile land out of production, is so close to its enrollment limit of 24 million acres that the USDA will not admit high-priority land that ordinarily could be enrolled at once. In a notice to local offices, the USDA said there was one exception to the shutdown: the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), a state-federal partnership often aimed at preventing water pollution from farm runoff.

Some 23.5 million acres are currently enrolled in the CRP, the largest long-term U.S. land retirement program. USDA headquarters said it was monitoring enrollment to make sure the statutory acreage limit was not exceeded. The enrollment cutoff went into effect at close of business on Wednesday.

Last year, a record 1.39 million acres entered the program via continuous enrollment, an option for shelter belts, buffer strips along waterways, wellhead protection, and other practices that cover comparatively small amounts of land but have high value in preventing erosion, runoff, or water pollution.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the USDA has already accepted several hundred thousand acres of land through the continuous sign-up option this year, putting a squeeze on the program. When the paperwork is completed, the reserve will be “too close to the program’s cap to enroll any additional acres other than state CREP acres,” it said. The 2017 total for continuous enrollment “will be well less than half of last year’s record,” said the NSAC.

Contracts on 2.5 million acres of land in the reserve expire on September 30, so there will be an opportunity this fall for new land to enter the program. Landowners will be given the chance to re-enroll expiring land before new land is accepted.

FERN’s Ag Insider. Produced by FERN
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