After nearly four years of tweaks to incentives -- coupled with rise in popularity among pasture landowners -- USDA expects the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will start fiscal year 2024 with its largest program acreage in more than a decade.
USDA will add 2.7 million acres to its Grassland Conservation Reserve Program and the department noted it had received a record 4.6 million acres of land offered to join Grasslands CRP, but had to turn down acreage because of the program's overall cap.
A USDA spokesman on Thursday stated to DTN the department estimates it will start fiscal year 2024 at the beginning of October with about 25.8 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). If the 25.8 million acres holds, that would put the CRP acreage at its highest level since fiscal year 2013 when the program was at 26.8 million acres.
In May, USDA reported 23 million total acres in CRP. About 1.97 million acres in CRP were set to expire at the end of September, but USDA reported in June that 891,000 acres had re-enrolled in the program during the general signup and another 295,000 new acres had enrolled in the program.
Unlike other parts of CRP that idle ground, Grassland CRP is a program for working lands that maintains the ground for grazing and haying practices. It also allows for cost-share payments for fencing or water facilities as well.
Grassland CRP, though it pays an average annual rental payment of about $15.58 an acre, accounted for 6.35 million acres in the program in May, or 28% of the total acreage.
"This year's Grassland CRP signup demonstrates the continued popularity, success and value of investments in voluntary, producer-led, working lands conservation programs," said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). "Grassland CRP clearly demonstrates that conservation priorities and agricultural productivity not only have the capacity to coexist but also complement and enhance one another. Through all our working land conservation programs, farmers and ranchers play a critical role in helping secure the future of both our food production and our natural resources."
Under the 2018 farm bill, USDA has a 27-million acre cap for CRP. Ducheneaux indicated any more acreage enrolled in the program right now would make it harder to sign up landowners for contracts in the immediate future.
"With a low number of acres expiring in 2024 and 2025, getting any closer to the statutory cap of 27 million acres would hinder USDA's ability to conduct meaningful future signups or to implement existing and new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Partnership (CREP) agreements in 2024."
USDA reports 483,548 acres are set to expire in September 2024 and another 964,448 acres will expire in September 2025.
While Grassland CRP is offered nationwide, three states, Nebraska (1.224 million acres), South Dakota (1.194 million acres) and Colorado (1.173 million acres) take up the majority of total acres in Grassland CRP. Those three states also topped the signup for the new acres added to the program.
Grasslands enrolled in CRP help sequester carbon in vegetation and soil, while enhancing resilience to drought and wildfire. Meanwhile, producers can still conduct common grazing practices, such as haying, mowing or harvesting seed from the enrolled land, which supports agricultural production, USDA noted.
Also see, "Emergency CRP Haying and Grazing Opens up in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska,"
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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