The 1985 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, established the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Little did they know the impact this program would have on conservation across the nation. The CRP quickly gained popularity with the nation’s agricultural and conservation minded landowners, and still to this day is one of the most successful conservation programs within the Farm Bill.
The CRP is a voluntary program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) with some technical services provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The CRP was established to retire highly erodible and low productivity lands from agricultural production by establishing CRP Conservation Practices and Initiatives. These practices and initiatives help to promote various conservation objectives for both wildlife and fish species native and historically located throughout the region in which the landowner’s property is located. Examples of these practices include, but are not limited to, riparian buffers, native grasses, wetland restoration, wildlife habitat, wildlife food plots, wildlife corridors, and tree planting.
Contracts for the CRP range from 10 to 15 years in length, and participants receive annual rental payments, along with 50 percent cost-share for establishment of previously mentioned conservation practices and initiatives. Also, there are other incentives available to eligible lands that may pay for practices such as disking or burning to enhance wildlife and habitat by setting back succession from occurring at a rapid pace across the property.
There are three options for CRP enrollment: General Enrollment, Continuous Enrollment, and Grasslands Enrollment. General Enrollment gives producers a chance to offer land annually during the announced enrollment periods, and the CRP applications are ranked from the Environmental Benefits Index based off the environmental benefits of land offered. Continuous Enrollment allows any environmentally sensitive land to be enrolled at any time throughout the year. Grasslands Enrollment helps landowners and/or operators to protect grasslands, rangeland, or pastureland while maintaining that land for grazing.
Eligibility must be met by both producer and by the land for enrollment in the CRP. Producers must have appropriate and adequate farm records established with the FSA and must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months for continuous signup or 12 months before the close of the enrollment period for general or grassland signup. Lands must have been planted to an agricultural commodity 4 of the last 6 crop years, and also must be physically and legally planted to that agricultural commodity. Both General and Grassland Enrollment have additional criteria as well that must be met for enrollment.
Several conservation practices (CP) are having a significant effect on both wildlife and fish conservation in Mississippi. These include the Wetlands Restoration Initiative (CP 23), the Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (CP 33), and the Bottomland Hardwood Initiative (CP 31) which was conceived by Wildlife Mississippi. These initiatives, among others, have proven to be extremely beneficial to our state.