CRP signup returns

Beginning Dec. 1, for the first time since 2013, owners of farmland have a crack at enrolling it in the Conservation Reserve Program through a general sign-up. But while the sign-up is expected to draw some interest because of poor crop prices, f...

Beginning Dec. 1, for the first time since 2013, owners of farmland have a crack at enrolling it in the Conservation Reserve Program through a general sign-up. (John Brose / Special to Agweek)

Beginning Dec. 1, for the first time since 2013, owners of farmland have a crack at enrolling it in the Conservation Reserve Program through a general sign-up. But while the sign-up is expected to draw some interest because of poor crop prices, farmers and others don’t expect a huge response.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of interest in putting land back into CRP,” says Charlie Bumgarner, a Great Falls, Mont., farmer and president of his state Grain Growers Association. But, he says, lower crop prices could cause expiring land to stay in the program in the next few years.
Economically marginal land, or land that doesn’t produce high yields and high profits even when crop prices are high, is most likely to be offered for CRP, says Jack Davis, South Dakota State University Extension crops business management field specialist.
Parts of fields that aren’t as productive as the rest of the field, not entire fields, are the best candidates for the new general signup, he says.
When CRP acreage was at its peak, landowners often enrolled entire fields, experts say.
Andy Swenson, North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist, also expects interest from landowners with economically marginal land.
CRP provides “a secure payment on marginal land,” he says.
CRP, which is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, gives landowners an annual per-acre payment to take environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. The land receives a specially designed vegetative cover that reduces soil erosion, improves soil and air quality and develops wildlife habitat.
As Bumgarner and others note, wildlife habitat has become an increasingly important component of CRP, with environmental considerations proportionally less important. That reflects improved farming practices that reduce erosion, which encourages producers to farm land once enrolled in CRP. Strong crop prices from 2008 to 2012 also encouraged farmers to take land out of CRP.
At its peak in 2007, 36.7 million acres were enrolled nationally in CRP. North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana were among the leaders in CRP enrollment, and the program was popular in northwest Minnesota, too.
Since then, the program has lost acres steadily, with about 24 million acres enrolled nationally today. Much of the decline has occurred in the Upper Midwest. South Dakota, for instance, has about 900,000 acres, down from a peak of 1.6 million acres in 2007.
Even so, CRP’s continuous signup provision has proven popular with some landowners, says Kelly Turgeon, executive director of the Kittson County Farm Service Agency in northwest Minnesota.
FSA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administers CRP.
The continuous signup is an ongoing process, when funding is available, in which CRP offers are accepted automatically provided the land meets certain eligibility requirements. Typically, continuous signups are for smaller parcels of particularly sensitive land.
In contrast, a general signup is a competitive process in which a landlord offers to enroll a particular piece of land in CRP, with that offer evaluated and ranked by USDA. Not all offers are accepted. General signups aren’t held every year, and there wasn’t one in 2014, although USDA allowed producers with a general CRP contract expiring in September 2014 to extend it one year.
USDA has promoted continuous signup in recent years, and some land that otherwise might be offered in the upcoming general signup already is in CRP through continuous signup, Turgeon says.
In some cases, continuous signup can be attractive financially, so landowners interested in the general signup should investigate continuous signup, too, Turgeon says.
Some landowners whose land didn’t meet continuous signup requirements in the past might try to enroll it in the new general sign-up, he says.
USDA doesn’t have a predetermined number of acres that it will accept in the upcoming general sign-up. Instead, the ag department will evaluate the offers on their environmental benefits and cost. Because it’s a competitive process, only the best offers will be accepted, Turgeon says.
Signup basics
Here’s what the FSA has to say about the CRP general signup 49, which will end Feb. 26, 2016:

  • Land not currently enrolled in CRP may be offered for enrollment. Also, CRP participants with contracts expiring Sept. 30, 2016, may submit offers. Accepted contracts for CRP general signup 49 will be effective Oct. 1, 2016.
  • To be eligible, land must have been planted to an ag commodity four of the previous six years and be “physically and legally capable of being planted in a normal manner to an agricultural commodity.”
  • To be eligible, a farmer must have owned or operated land for at least 12 months before the previous sign-up period. There are exceptions: land acquired by the new owner because of the previous owner’s death; change in ownership from foreclosure; land bought by the new owner without the intention of placing it in CRP.
  • Contracts are for no less than 10 years and can’t be longer than 15 years. Some conservation practices are limited to 10 years; other practices are 10 to 15 years.
  • Landlords who want to learn more about how to make their offer more competitive, or to learn more about CRP in general, should contact their local FSA office, Turgeon says.
Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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