Program has sent $144 million to rural areas in 25 years
By TIM HEARDEN
DAVIS, Calif. -- A federal program geared to converting marginal farmland to wildlife habitat has enrolled more than 114,000 acres in California this year, the USDA's Farm Service Agency has announced.
Landowners voluntarily participate in the Conservation Reserve Program and receive annual rental payments and help with costs for planting cover on their property.
In the program's 25-year existence, California contracts have earned more than $144 million for rural property owners and producers, Farm Service Agency officials say.
"Basically it's to take marginal farmland that should never have been put under the plow and put it into conservation," said Larry Plumb, the FSA's conservation specialist. "It allows the farmer to have an income stream ... so they can concentrate on other productive land."
The program is different from a conservation easement, which is permanent and provides a lump-sum payment to a landowner for keeping a portion of the property as open space. With an easement, the land typically can be farmed but not developed.
CRP contracts are typically for 10 years, during which time no crops can be planted on the land, and grazing can occur in only three of the years to control noxious weeds, Plumb said.
Applications are considered on a ranking system for land based on a variety of factors, he said. During an enrollment period this spring, 38,000 offers were received on about 3.8 million acres nationwide, and about 2.8 million acres were enrolled to bring the total enrollment nationwide to 29.9 million acres.
Since its inception, the CRP program is credited with reducing soil erosion by 8 billion tons, restoring 2 million acres of wetlands and buffers and leading to significant increases in wildlife numbers which translates to recreational dollars for rural economies, the FSA asserts in a news release.
With the CRP, "you could probably make as much money in a dryland area as you could if you farm it," Plumb said.
The CRP is one of the few conservation-related programs handled by the Farm Service Agency, which tends to be geared more toward crop development and risk prevention, spokesman Paul Lehman said.
Most other such programs are handled by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, he said.
"This is the one big conservation program and the biggest conservation program in USDA that remains in our portfolio," he said. "It is unique in that regard. We do cooperate very closely with NRCS with technical aspects of this program."
For information about the Conservation Reserve Program, contact a Farm Service Agency office or visit www.fsa.usda.gov/crp .
California USDA Farm Service Agency: www.fsa.usda.gov/ca