USDA expands, renews CRP in order to boost enrollment, address climate change

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials.

“Sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you. With CRP, the U.S. has one of the world’s most successful voluntary conservation programs. We need to invest in CRP and let it do what it does best—preserve topsoil, sequester carbon and reduce the impacts of climate change,” said Vilsack.

Conservation Reserve Program

USDA’s goal is to enroll up to 4 million new acres in CRP by raising rental payment rates and expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program. CRP is one of the world’s largest voluntary conservation programs with a long track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon, and reducing nitrogen runoff, as well providing healthy habitat for wildlife.

CRP is a powerful tool when it comes to climate mitigation, and acres currently enrolled in the program mitigate more than 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If USDA reaches its goal of enrolling an additional 4 million acres into the program, it will mitigate an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent and prevent 90 million pounds of nitrogen and 33 million tons of sediment from running into our waterways each year.

“We want to make sure CRP continues to be a valuable and effective conservation resource for our producers for decades to come,” said Vilsack. “USDA will continue to find new and creative ways of putting producers and landowners at the center of climate-smart practices that generate revenue and benefit our planet.”

New Climate-Smart Practice Incentive

To target the program on climate change mitigation, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous signups that aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-Smart CRP practices include establishment of trees and permanent grasses; development of wildlife habitat; and wetland restoration. The Climate-Smart Practice Incentive is annual, and the amount is based on the benefits of each practice type.

Higher rental rates and new incentives

In 2021, CRP is capped at 25 million acres, and currently 20.8 million acres are enrolled. Furthermore, the cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023. To help increase producer interest and enrollment, FSA is:

  • Adjusting soil rental rates. This enables additional flexibility for rate adjustments, including a possible increase in rates where appropriate.
  • Increasing payments for practice incentives from 20 percent to 50 percent. This incentive for continuous CRP practices is based on the cost of establishment and is in addition to cost share payments.
  • Increasing payments for water quality practices. Rates are increasing from 10 percent to 20 percent for certain water quality benefiting practices available through the CRP continuous signup, such as grassed waterways, riparian buffers and filter strips.
  • Establishing a CRP Grassland minimum rental rate. This benefits more than 1,300 counties with rates currently below the minimum.

 Enhanced natural resource benefits

To boost impacts for natural resources, FSA is:

  • Moving state acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices to the CRP continuous sign-up. Unlike the general sign-up, producers can sign up year-round for the continuous sign-up and be eligible for additional incentives.
  • Establishing national grassland priority zones. This aims to increase enrollment of grasslands in migratory corridors and environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Making Highly Erodible Land Initiative (HELI) practices available in both the general and continuous sign-ups.

Increasing technical assistance capacity and impact measurement

USDA technical assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is critical to enable producers to plan and implement conservation practices that are appropriate for their needs. To ensure increased enrollment and support for producers, USDA is increasing NRCS technical assistance capacity for CRP by $140 million.

Additionally, in order to better target the program toward climate outcomes, USDA will invest $10 million in the CRP Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation (MAE) program to measure and monitor the soil carbon and climate resilience impacts of conservation practices over the life of new CRP contracts. This will enable the agency to further refine the program and practices to provide producers tools for increased climate resilience.

To learn more about updates to CRP, download our “What’s New with CRP” fact sheet.

Partnership Programs Contribute to Priorities

In addition to changes to CRP, Secretary Vilsack also announced significant investments for climate-smart policies. First, NRCS is investing $330 million in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to address climate change and other natural resources challenges. NRCS will announce more details on the RCPP project selections on April 26.

Second, NRCS is investing $25 million in proposals for on-farm trials, which are part of the Conservation Innovation Grants program. NRCS is seeking proposals through June 21. Project priorities include climate-smart agricultural solutions and soil health practices.