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USDA to allow producers to terminate expiring CRP contracts early in an effort to boost food production

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday, May 26, it will allow Conservation Reserve Program participants who are in the final year of their CRP contract to request voluntary termination of their contract following the end of the primary nesting season for fiscal year 2022.

A butterfly in wildflowers on Conservation Reserve Program land.
A butterfly in wildflowers on Conservation Reserve Program land.
Liz Harder / Harder Stock
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday, May 26, it will allow Conservation Reserve Program participants who are in the final year of their CRP contract to request voluntary termination of their contract following the end of the primary nesting season for fiscal year 2022. That would allow farmers to plant fall-seeded crops like winter wheat or prepare land for planting ahead of 2023.

CRP is one of the largest voluntary private-lands conservation programs in the United States. It was originally intended to primarily control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production.

Participants approved for this one-time, voluntary termination will not have to repay rental payments, which the USDA said is intended to "help mitigate the global food supply challenges caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other factors."

“Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine has cut off a critical source of wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds, and cooking oil, and we’ve heard from many producers who want to better understand their options to help respond to global food needs,” said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. “This announcement will help producers make informed decisions about land use and conservation options.”

A release from USDA on May 3 said 3.4 million acres of CRP are expiring this year. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on that day announced the USDA is accepting more than 2 million acres in offers from landowners through the CRP general signup, which ran from Jan. 31 to March 11. While the general signup is closed, producers and landowners can still apply for the Continuous and Grassland signups by contacting their local USDA Service Center .

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FSA is mailing letters to producers with expiring acres to explain the termination offer and share other options, such as re-enrolling sensitive acres in the CRP Continuous signup and considering growing organic crops, since CRP land typically does not have a recent history of pesticide or herbicide application. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance to help producers plan and implement conservation practices, including those that work well for organic operations, such as pest management and mulching. Meanwhile, FSA offers cost-share for certification costs and other fees.

Producers will be asked to make the request for voluntary termination in writing through their local USDA Service Center . If approved for voluntary termination, preparations can occur after the conclusion of the primary nesting season . Producers will then be able to hay, graze, begin land preparation activities and plant a fall-seeded crop before Oct. 1, 2022. For land in colder climates, this flexibility may allow for better establishment of a winter wheat crop or better prepare the land for spring planting.

Participants can also choose to enroll all or part of their expiring acres into the Continuous CRP signup for 2022. Important conservation benefits may still be achieved by re-enrolling sensitive acres such as buffers or wetlands. Expiring water quality practices such as filter strips, grass waterways, and riparian buffers may be eligible to be reenrolled under the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) and CLEAR 30 options under CRP. Additionally, expiring continuous CRP practices such as shelterbelts, field windbreaks, and other buffer practices may also be re-enrolled to provide benefits for organic farming operations.

If producers are not planning to farm the land from their expiring CRP contract, the Transition Incentives Program may also provide them two additional annual rental payments after their contract expires on the condition that they sell or rent their land to a beginning or veteran farmer or rancher or a member of a socially disadvantaged group.

Producers interested in the Continuous CRP signup, CLEAR 30, or TIP should contact FSA by Aug. 5, 2022.

The USDA also announced additional flexibilities for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. NRCS will allow EQIP and CSP participants who have cover cropping including in their existing contracts to either modify their plans to plant a cover crop (and instead shift to a conservation crop rotation) or delay their cover crop plans a year, without needing to terminate the existing contract. The department says this "will allow for flexibility to respond to market signals while still ensuring the conservation benefits through NRCS financial and technical assistance for participating producers."

USDA encourages producers to consider participating in EQIP or CSP, which help producers integrate conservation on croplands, grazing lands and other agricultural landscapes by planting cover crops, managing nutrients and improving irrigation and grazing systems.

Producers and landowners can learn more about these options by contacting FSA and NRCS at their local USDA Service Center .

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