USDA announced that it will accept 4.3 million acres offered by landowners under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. The selections preserve and enhance environmentally sensitive lands, including wetlands, while providing payments to property owners.

USDA California Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Val Dolcini said that "CRP in California plays an important role in providing conservation and water quality benefits throughout California while providing an economic incentive for farmers to restore conservation practices on marginal farm ground."

For this 39th general sign-up more than 50,000 offers were received on more than 4.8 million acres, nationwide. California producers offered 11,024 acres and 97.8 percent of the 45 offers were accepted.

Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams or rivers. The plantings reduce soil and nutrients from washing into waterways, reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality, and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Plant cover established on the acreage accepted into the CRP will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff in our nation’s rivers and streams. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduced soil erosion by more than 400 million tons per year.

USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors are: (1) wildlife enhancement, (2) water quality, (3) soil erosion, (4) enduring benefits, and (5) air quality. The minimal acceptable EBI level for this signup is 200.

The average rental rate per acre for this sign-up is about $46. USDA implemented a number of measures including using additional EBI point incentives for producers to submit cost-effective offers, and producer outreach activities to encourage competitive offers on the most environmentally sensitive lands. These measures will maintain the high environmental benefits while decreasing the historic cost of the program.

Under CRP, there are more than 31.3 million acres enrolled on more than 473,000 contracts. These 10 to 15 year contracts provide long term enduring conservation benefits in return for an annual rental payment.