Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that farmers and ranchers might elect to re-enroll or extend their Conservation Reserve Program contracts expiring in 2007 through 2010.

“Balance is the key to any good conservation plan. So we’re offering farmers and ranchers re-enrollments and contract extensions to take full advantage of the environmental benefits of this program," said Johanns.

To determine eligibility for re-enrolling or extending CRP contracts, USDA's Farm Service Agency will use the Environmental Benefits Index that was in place when the contracts were first written. The EBI is a measuring system that assigns point scores to the contracts and then nationally ranks all CRP land enrollment offers.

Several environmental outcomes factor into EBI point scores such as improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and air quality and reducing soil erosion.

The EBI scores are based upon a 100 percentile that is divided into five ranking tiers. In the first tier, CRP producers ranking in the top 20 percent of the EBI can re-enroll their land in new contracts and farmers and ranchers with wetlands in this ranking can receive contract terms of 10 to 15 years.

CRP producers ranking within the second tier, between the 61-80 percent, can extend their contracts for five years. Farmers and ranchers ranking within the third tier, 41-60 percent, can extend their CRP contracts by four years. Those ranking in the fourth tier, between 21-40 percent, can receive three-year extensions. And those contracts ranking in the fifth tier of the 20 percent of CRP producers can extend their contracts by two years.

Environmental benefits As a result of this land conservation program, Johanns said, many widespread environmental benefits have evolved. Examples:

– Reductions in soil erosion are reaching more than 450 million tons per year, thereby increasing air quality due to less airborne contamination.

– Sediment and nutrient runoff into rivers and streams is improving.

– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that CRP is increasing duck populations by more than 2 million per year. Ring-necked pheasant populations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio are rising by 200 percent.

– CRP is increasing grasshopper sparrow, lark bunting and eastern meadowlark populations. – The long-absent prairie chickens in Texas are reappearing.

– CRP is helping Columbian sharp-tailed grouse recover.

– New bird habitats in the Northern Great Plains are emerging.

– Western state populations of big game elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope are increasing.

Re-enrollment

Next spring, FSA will write to CRP producers with contracts expiring Sept. 30, 2007, to discuss whether those contracts are eligible for re-enrollment or extension. Farmers and ranchers will confirm their contract interests at that point and a compliance check will be necessary.

Those 15-year contracts expiring Sept. 30, 2007, are not eligible for re-enrollment or extension. During the next several months FSA will update the CRP rental rates to better reflect local market rates for cropland on new contract re-enrollments and will review cropland enrollment limits on a county-by-county basis.

CRP is a voluntary program for agricultural producers, which help them protect environmentally sensitive land. Producers enrolling in CRP plant long-term, resource conservation covers with USDA providing rental payments and cost-share assistance.

A list of CRP acres by state with contracts expiring in 2007-2010 can be found at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm. For more information on the CRP program, contact your local FSA office or visit the FSA Web site at http://www.fsa.usda.gov.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com