The USDA has issued the results of the first Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up in four years. Announced on July 26 the sign-up ran from Aug. 2 through Aug. 27.

To be eligible, the land had to be cropped for four of the six production years from 2002 through 2007.

“The 2008 farm bill revised the total maximum number of acres allowed in CRP to 32 million,” said Jonathan Coppess, FSA administrator, during a Tuesday press conference touting the program. “At this point, there are more than 31 million acres enrolled in the various CRP programs, including the continuous sign-up program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

“However, at the end of this fiscal year – which is in about 16 days – somewhere around 4.45 million CRP acres currently under contract will expire.”

USDA’s goal, therefore, “was to accept enough acres in the general sign-up to bring the CRP enrollment to a level that would maximize the program and still give leeway to add new continuous sign-up and CREP acres along the way. (All this) while remaining under the statutory cap of 32 million acres.”

Among the results:

During the August sign-up, producers across the country made more than 50,000 offers totaling more than 4.8 million acres.

The USDA is accepting 4.3 million of those acres into the CRP program.

This year, the average rental payment, per acre, is $46.03. CRP payments are made in arrears.

“This means the expected national CRP enrollment beginning on Oct. 1, 2010, will stand at 31.2 million acres, including the newly enrolled acres,” said Coppess. “That leaves approximately 800,000 acres that can be enrolled in continuous CRP sign-up and CREP throughout fiscal year 2011.”

A majority of approved contracts are for 10-year commitments.

“The CRP contract begins Oct. 1, 2010, and runs through Sept. 30 of the ending year (in most cases, 2020),” said Brandon Willis, FSA deputy administrator for farm programs.

What happens next?

“FSA county offices will notify producers and work with them to ensure all signatures are obtained,” said Willis. “That way, CRP contracts can be approved … by the end of this month. In some cases, only one of the (necessary) parties signed the contract during sign-up and now the others must sign on.”

Due to relatively short sign-up period, FSA authorized the use of interim conservation plans so contracts could be expedited.

“For this sign-up, only, the contract may be approved based on the interim plan. However, a final conservation plan is required by the end of this year.”

Willis said producers can withdraw from CRP contracts without any penalties before the final conservation plan is developed.

dbennett@farmpress.com