Conservation Reserve Program Increases Incentive Payments in 2021

*UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Feb. 5 that enrollment in the is extending the Conservation Reserve Program General Signup period and will continue to accept offers as it takes this opportunity for the incoming Administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in December that it is increasing incentive payments for practices installed on land enrolled in the continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is upping the Practice Incentive Payment for installing practices, from 5 percent to 20 percent. Additionally, producers will receive a 10 percent incentive payment for water quality practices on land enrolled in CRP’s continuous signup. CRP is a land conservation program administered by FSA. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat. CRP provides opportunities for farmers to incorporate conservation practices and valuable habitat for wildlife species, including the monarch, while continuing to have production and profitable farming operations. 

There are three types of CRP enrollment.  General CRP and Grassland CRP have specific sign-up periods where lands offered for enrollment compete with others through ranking systems, while the Continuous CRP provides for enrollment throughout the year and without competition. 

The CRP general signup has been extended through the originally announced sign-up date to allow the new administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.*

Drew Larsen, Director of Education & Outreach, Pheasants Forever, commented, “This sign up, along with the ongoing Continuous CRP enrollments, and Grassland CRP signup slated for March, allows for up to 7 million acres of new contract enrollment.  These voluntary CRP conservation practices can provide farmers and ranchers reliable income while reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing habitat for the monarch butterfly.”

This post details specific ways farmers and landowners can enroll in certain programs that will provide cash incentives to benefit monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Read on to learn about the general CRP sign-up, continuous signup, important dates, which programs benefit pollinators, and how to increase your chances of enrollment.

Highlights for Pollinators in CRP

Pollinator Habitat (CP42) can be offered in General or Continuous Signup. Under General CRP there is no maximum acreage for this practice making it a great option for landowners interested in establishing whole or partial fields to pollinator habitat. Highly sensitive lands, like field borders or areas near streams and ponds, may be best offered under Continuous CRP. For more information, see the USDA’s fact sheet on pollinator habitat planting.

General CRP Cheat Sheet

General CRP signups are competitive and for landowners to earn the best chance of being accepted they’ll need to maximize their Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) score. Selecting a practice made up of diverse native species like Pollinator Habitat (CP42), SAFE Projects (CP38), Rare and Declining Habitat (CP25), and Wildlife Habitat (CP4D) will allow landowners to maximize EBI scores while providing quality pollinator habitat. To further boost the odds of their offer being accepted, landowners should consider adding pollinator habitat plots to their planting. These plots can add EBI points to any practice offered during the general signup, not just those traditionally thought of as wildlife beneficial. For more on the EBI and what factors you can influence, see the information below.

CRP General Sign-up 54 originally ran from Jan. 4, 2021 through Feb. 12, 2021 but the sign up period has been extended.*

General CRP Practices

The butterfly icon denotes best potential to benefit pollinators and monarchs.
*CP 42 practice is an eligible practice for both general and continuous offers.

General CRP Environmental Benefits Index (EBI)- Ranking Eligible CRP Offers

Note, the USDA fact sheet on EBI scores, can be found at this link.

Below please find information on ranking and scoring that will increase farmers’ chances of enrollment. 

  • FSA will rank offers according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI).
  • The EBI ensures that the most environmentally sensitive acres are selected relative to cost and all offers are considered fairly.
  • All offers are ranked nationally.
  • The six EBI factors include:
    • N1 – Wildlife Habitat Benefits
    • N2 – Water Quality Benefits
    • N3 – Erosion Reduction Benefits
    • N4 – Enduring Benefits
    • N5 – Air Quality Benefits
    • N6 – Cost
  • What EBI factors can you influence?
    • N1 – Wildlife Benefits: Wildlife habitat cover selection is the most critical factor impacting wildlife benefits. Native mixes of diverse species generally receive the highest point scores. Points are awarded for cover practices and habitat improvements.
  • Three Subfactors (Note N1= N1a+N1b+N1c=100 points)
    • N1a – Wildlife Cover (10 to 50 points) – Optimum covers significantly increase score
    • N1b – Wildlife Enhancement (0,5,20 Points) – See additional info below
    • N1c – Wildlife Priority Zones (0 to 30 points) – Based on location so little control at farm level
  • N4 – Enduring Benefits (little to no impact on pollinators)
  • N6 – Cost (little to no impact on pollinators)

Additional info on N1b- Wildlife Enhancement of Cover

Wildlife Food Plots: 5 points (This has been available in previous signups)

  • Annual or permanent food plots
  • Up to 10 percent of the field not to exceed 5 acres per field (minimum of ¼ acre)

Pollinator Habitat: 20 points (This has been available in previous signups)

  • Minimum of 1 acre or 10 percent of acreage offered. At least 0.5 acres in size
  • 20-40 wildflower species flowering throughout the year

SAFE: 20 points (Available for signup 54 starting in 2020)

  • At least 51 percent of the acreage offered is located in an approved SAFE project area and SAFE practice
  • Acres will be planted to nesting, brood, and winter cover as appropriate
  • Generally, a diverse mix that includes native forb mix.

Opportunities for Pollinators and Monarchs in General CRP

  1. Select a diverse native planting like a CP42, 38, 25, or 50pts CP2, to gain highest EBI score
  2. With any cover type, boost EBI score by selecting Pollinator Habitat or SAFE as a Wildlife Enhancement (N1b)

Continuous CRP Cheat Sheet

Under Continuous CRP signup, environmentally sensitive land can be enrolled in CRP at any time. Offers are automatically accepted provided that eligibility requirements are met and there are acres available in the program. This makes Continuous CRP a better option for some landowners. The practices that will provide the most benefit for pollinators and monarchs are Pollinator Habitat (CP42), Habitat Buffers (CP33), and the new Prairie Strip (CP43).

Under the Continuous CRP signup, Pollinator Habitat (CP42) is limited to 10 acres per tract or 10 percent of offered acres. This makes it a terrific option for creating pollinator habitat on small fields or unprofitable acres but not for larger plantings. Those offers will need to be made under General CRP.

Habitat Buffers (CP33) and Prairie Strips (CP43) both have a requirement that some portion of the offered field stay in agricultural production. This is a great way for producers to target low productivity areas of their operation, or areas of conservation concern (erosion, runoff, etc.), and provide valuable habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.

The Continuous CRP Sign-up 53 is ongoing and will remain open until acre goals are reached. Landowners who wish to re-enroll expiring contracts should sign up by August 21st to ensure program deadlines are met.

Continuous CRP – Best Options to Benefit Pollinators

Habitat Buffers (CP33)

  • 30-120 ft habitat buffers planted along the field edges.
  • Enroll crop fields of at least 5 acres.
  • Options to enroll only pivot corners

Pollinator Habitat (CP42)

  • CP42 can be offered in General or Continuous Signup
    • Previously this was only a Continuous practice
  • In General Signup – Pollinator habitat can be used to enhance EBI points or offered as a whole field practice
    • General Signup does not have a maximum acreage limit
  • Under Continuous Signup – CP42 offers are limited to 10 acres per tract or 10% of offered acres.
    • Previously the only cap was 100 acres per Farm

Prairie Strips (CP43)

  • 30 to 120 ft strips in crop fields that make up no more than 25 percent of total field
  • Prairie Strips establish diverse perennial vegetation oriented linearly within row crop fields.
  • Where Can Prairie Strips be Placed in a Field?
    • Around the edges of a field
    • Through the field
    • In terrace channels
    • Next to waterways
    • Pivot corners