The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently finalized changes to the provisions of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) that will increase the program’s acreage ceiling by nearly 20,000 acres and make all Pennsylvania CREP practices eligible for sign-up in Chesapeake Bay watershed counties. The revisions are intended to help reduce sediment and nutrient loadings from farmland into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams and provide downstream improvements for the waters of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and beyond.
“These changes will provide greater flexibility for more Pennsylvania farmers and other land owners to establish conservation cover and increase land stewardship within the Chesapeake Bay watershed," says Michael Scuse, undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.
The Pennsylvania CREP, first announced in April 2000 with a 100,000-acre goal, originally included 20 counties in the lower Susquehanna and Potomac River basins. The project was expanded in 2003 to add another 100,000 acres and increase the project area to include 23 northern tier counties. Now, the state’s CREP will add another 19,746 acres and is available to all Pennsylvania counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
The Pennsylvania CREP is designed to assist the state’s farmers and other landowners working to voluntarily restore wetlands, riparian areas and grasslands by enrolling up to 219,746 acres of farmland in CREP. Additional goals include reducing erosion in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 17.9 million tons, preventing 265,500 tons of sediment and 15,409 tons of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from reaching the Chesapeake Bay.
CREP is an option under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that agricultural producers may use to voluntarily establish conservation practices on their land. Producers can enroll in CREP at any time. To encourage enrollment into these environmentally sensitive resource areas, per-acre annual rental payments are at a higher effective rate than offered under a general CRP sign-up. Pennsylvania farmers and landowners are encouraged to voluntarily convert eligible cropland and marginal pastureland to native grasses, legumes, forbs, shrubs and trees under 10-15 year CRP contracts. In return, they receive annual rental payments, cost share and other incentives.
To be eligible, cropland must meet CRP's cropping history criteria, which includes cropping history provisions, one-year ownership requirement, and physical and legal cropping requirements. Marginal pastureland is also eligible for enrollment provided it is suitable for use as a needed and eligible riparian buffer. Producers who have an existing CRP contract are not eligible for CREP until that contract expires. Producers with expiring CRP contracts who are interested in CREP should submit offers for re-enrolling their land into CREP during the last year of their existing CRP contract.
In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds, respectively. For more information about CREP, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/pa and look under “programs.”