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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): Status and Issues

Megan Stubbs
Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides payments to agricultural producers to take highly erodible and environmentally sensitive land out of production and install resource conserving practices for 10 or more years. CRP was first authorized in the Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198, 1985 farm bill) and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) with technical support from other USDA agencies. Participants offer land for enrollment through two types of sign-up: general and continuous. General sign-ups are competitive and only open during select times. Continuous sign-ups are not competitive, always open for enrollment, and offer additional financial incentives to those who qualify. Continuous sign-ups are targeted to specific environmental and resource concerns and operate through a number of initiatives. The largest and most well known is the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which partners with states to address agricultural-related environmental concerns in specific geographic regions. While the majority of current acres enrolled were under general sign-ups (21.5 million acres), an increasing number are enrolled under continuous sign-ups (5.4 million acres).

Program and funding authority for CRP was extended in the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240) and will now expire on September 30, 2013. Without reauthorization or an extension of authority the agency cannot approve any contracts or process any offers for enrollment. Congress continues to debate the reauthorization or extension of the 2008 farm bill, which authorized CRP to enroll up to 32 million acres. Bills considered, but not enacted, in the 112
th Congress would reduce the authorized number of acres to 25 million and reauthorize the program through FY2017.

A number of factors have impacted CRP enrollment recently, mainly high commodity crop prices. These high crop prices have increased demand to put CRP acres back into production, even marginal acres. This pressure could potentially reduce the number of CRP acres offered for reenrollment once they have expired or cause existing current CRP participants to seek an early release from their CRP contract. Some participants also have cited a potentially low CRP rental rate compared to the market rental rate as a reason for decreased enrollment interest. Despite these factors, enrollment has increased under continuous sign-ups and demand for the program, in general, still exceeds the enrollment cap.

CRP has contributed to a number of environmental benefits including reduced soil erosion, improved water quality through wetlands and field buffers, reduced fertilizer use, and increased wildlife habitat. The recent expiration of a number of acres from the program, and a reduced reenrollment, has some concerned that a number of the environmental benefits gained under CRP could be lost or reduced if land is returned to production.

Date of Report: March 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: R42783
Price: $29.95

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