The USDA is putting a temporary hold on new applications for the Conservation Reserve Program.
The agency accepted applications last year, but is holding them, said Rod Hamilton, farm programs chief for the USDA Farm Service Agency office in Spokane. All current eligible CRP continuous enrollment offers made through Sept, 30, except those made under the Pollinator Habitat Initiative, will be approved, according to the national office.
CRP pays farmers and ranchers who remove sensitive land from production and plant certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat. Contracts last between 10 and 15 years. Payments for 2017 totaled more than $1.6 billion.
The agency will wait on offers received after Sept. 30, Hamilton said, and see how the applications correspond to the national 24 million-acre statutory cap.
“For those folks that want to make new offers now, it does put them on hold,” Hamilton said.
The temporary halt will likely be revised at some point in the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Hamilton said.
Farmers with CRP contracts set to expire Sept. 30, 2018, are in “a little uncertain” position, Hamilton said. About 4 million acres are due to expire across the country.
“They’re kind of left treading water, for at least a while, until a decision is made how to proceed,” he said.
The agency has historically held a signup allowing farmers the opportunity to make a new offer if they choose. Hamilton said “a fair amount of interest” remains in CRP, although growers are aware the agency is close to the acreage cap.
It’s caused farmers who would otherwise routinely renew their CRP contract to consider other options, he said, including putting the land back into production, converting it to grazing lands or trying another version of CRP, such as SAFE, which targets wildlife habitat, or other options under the USDA NAtural Resources Conservation Service.
The previous cap was 32 million acres. It’s reached as high as 39 million acres, although Hamilton said enrollment numbers never reached that total.
Last year, only 20 percent of offers were accepted, Hamilton said.
He believes U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is analyzing the CRP program and future directions, including whether he will focus on general or targeted CRP programs. Discussions are ongoing at the national office, Hamilton said.
It’s not clear when the suspension will be lifted.
“We’ve just been told, ‘These are the rules until further notice, but there will be a change later on in the fiscal year,’” Hamilton said.
Hamilton recommends farmers keep in touch with their county FSA office for updates.