Signup deadline is Feb. 26 for CRP enrollment

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reminding farmers and ranchers the competitive sign-up deadline for its most popular voluntary conservation program, the Conserva?tion Reserve Program, is Feb. 26.

This will be one of the most competitive general sign-up periods in history, in part because of a statutory limit on the number of acres that can be enrolled in the program, according to the U.S.D.A.

The most competitive applications will be those that combine multiple conservation benefits, such as water quality and wildlife habitat.

For the past 30 years, CRP has provided financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to remove environmentally sensitive agricultural land from production to be planted with certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.

Since 1985, CRP has sequestered an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road; prevented 9 billion tons of soil from erosion, enough to fill 600 million dump trucks; and reduced nitrogen and phosphorous runoff by 95 and 85 percent, respectively.

CRP also protects more than 170,000 stream miles with forests and grasses, enough to go around the world seven times. The program has allowed for the restoration of 2.7 million acres of wetland and protects more than 170,000 stream miles with forests and grasses, enough to go around the world seven times.

?Since the start of this administration, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide,? said Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary.?

As of January, 23.6 million acres were enrolled in CRP, with contracts for more than 1.6 million acres set to expire this fall.

The statutory cap on acres that can be enrolled is 24 million acres. Submissions will be ranked according to environmental benefits in comparison to all other offers nationwide.