CRP contracts raise questions

USDA earlier this year announced it will accept more acres into the Conservation Reserve Program. The program pays landowners for taking environmentally sensitive land out of crop production and seeding that land to grass or planting trees. CRP contracts are 10 to 15 years in length.

On Sept. 30, CRP contracts on about 6.5 million acres of land nationwide are scheduled to expire, with about 231,672 of those acres in Iowa. Landowners will have to decide whether or not to re-enroll the land in CRP. There are a number of questions being raised by owners regarding land preparation for expiring CRP contracts.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency handles this program. Beth Grabau, public information and outreach specialist with the Iowa FSA office in Des Moines, answers the following questions. She is assisted by Vicki Friedow, program specialist with Iowa FSA. For answers to specific questions or more information on maintenance and management of CRP acres, contact your local FSA office. Go online to www.fsa.usda.gov

Question: A recent general Conservation Reserve Program sign-up has producers with acreage scheduled to expire on Sept. 30 now making the decision as to whether or not they should re-enroll these acres. With either choice, what are the participant’s options to prepare this expiring land?

Answer: Options to prepare land are available for both of these decisions, but with limitations. For those producers who did re-offer expiring CRP acreage, in most cases, an enhanced seeding is needed. To complete this management practice, removing some of the existing cover will be required. The date the program participant chooses to remove this material will determine what action will need to be taken.

Those who chose not to re-offer and will be cropping former CRP acres can begin some early land preparation before the existing CRP contract expires. However, participants must follow a conservation plan or acceptable system if the expired CRP field is on highly erodible land to be eligible for USDA benefits.

Before completing any activity, producers should contact their local FSA county office for more information on what activities are authorized.

Question: I’ve been notified that my offer to re-enroll some expiring CRP land was accepted with the last general sign-up. With this acceptance, I have to improve the existing seeding. Since the land is currently in CRP, can I begin this work before the current contract expires?

Answer: In most cases, with expiring CRP acreage the landowner is required to enhance the seeding when completing the offer to re-enroll this acreage.

For new CRP contracts taking effect Oct. 1, removal of the duff may be needed (as determined by the Natural Resources Conservation Service) if new seeding is necessary. After approval of the new contract, the producer may remove the cover according to the following dates:

If the activity is completed by Sept. 30 or before, CRP participants follow the managed harvesting provisions with the 25% payment reduction applied.

If completed after Oct. 1, the existing cover may be removed with no payment reduction because it is being done for re-establishment of a new cover. This removal for commercial use is prohibited.

A written request to your local FSA office must be completed and approved before beginning any activities.

Question: I have a CRP contract that is expiring on Sept. 30. I chose not to put in an offer to have this land re-enrolled. When can I begin preparing the land for cropping next year’s crop?

Answer: It is important to remember that individuals who will be cropping former CRP acres must also follow a conservation plan or acceptable system if the expired CRP field is on highly erodible land to be eligible for USDA benefits.

In preparation for a spring-seeded crop, CRP participants may request to destroy the eligible acreage’s cover before the expiration of the current contract. This can only be done after the primary nesting season. CRP participants are permitted to apply chemicals to prepare the acreage.

Participants may mow CRP acreage before applying chemicals to prepare the acreage for spring-seeded crops, if the mowing is conducted outside the primary nesting season. In Iowa the primary nesting season ends Aug. 1. Participants shall not hay, graze, or otherwise make commercial use of CRP acreage in preparing the acreage for spraying.

Destruction of the CRP cover by any other means than what is allowed is not permitted. Seedbed preparation is not permitted before the CRP-1 expires. There are no provisions to allow for installing terraces, or for installing tile to prepare land that is under a CRP contract for production of an agricultural commodity.

A written request, as well as an approved conservation plan from NRCS, must be completed and approved first.

Question: I have heard the term, but what is FSA’s definition as it relates to “commercial use” of the CRP cover?

Answer: Commercial use is defined as the receipt of any value or benefit from the cover that is removed. CRP participants cannot keep the existing cover harvested for their own use. They cannot sell or donate it with the exception of a government, municipality or nonprofit agency.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.