An additional 800,000 highly environmentally sensitive acres can be added to the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program, the agency announced Friday.
The acreage will be added under certain wetland and wildlife initiatives that provide multiple benefits on the same land, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a speech delivered at the Ducks Unlimited National Convention in Milwaukee, Wis.
USDA will accept new offers to participate in CRP under a general signup to be held Dec. 1, 2015, through Feb. 26, 2016. Eligible existing program participants with contracts expiring Sept. 30, 2015, will be granted an option for one-year extensions.
Farmers and ranchers interested in removing sensitive land from agricultural production and planting grasses or trees to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and restore wildlife habitat are encouraged to enroll, USDA said.
"For 30 years, the Conservation Reserve Program has supported farmers and ranchers as they continue to be good stewards of land and water," Vilsack said. "This initiative has helped farmers and ranchers prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to cropland by 95 and 85% respectively, and even sequester 43 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equal to taking 8 million cars off the road."
USDA CRP participants establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat. In return, USDA's Farm Service Agency provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.
Vilsack hailed the CRP program for protecting water quality and restoring habitat for ducks, pheasants, turkey, quail, deer and other important wildlife.
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"I encourage all farmers and ranchers to consider the various CRP continuous sign-up initiatives that may help target specific resource concerns," said Vilsack. "Financial assistance is offered for many practices including conservation buffers and pollinator habitat plantings, and initiatives such as the highly erodible lands, bottomland hardwood tree and longleaf pine, all of which are extremely important."
Farmers and ranchers may visit their FSA county office for additional information.