USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that agricultural producers and private landowners can begin applying for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General signup starting February 27 through April 7, 2023. USDA did not announce the Grassland CRP signup yet but indicated it would be open in the coming weeks. The Continuous CRP Signup remains ongoing.
General CRP will again include a Climate-Smart Practice Incentive, which was first included in the 2021 program, to incentivize practices that increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the USDA’s announcement, more than 5 million acres were enrolled into CRP through signups in 2022, building on the acceptance of more than 3.1 million acres in the largest Grassland CRP signup in history. There are currently 23 million acres enrolled in CRP, with 1.9 million set to expire this year. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is aiming to reach the 27-million-acre cap statutorily set for fiscal year 2023.
How to Sign Up
Landowners and producers interested in CRP should contact their local USDA Service Center to learn more or to apply for the program before their deadlines. You can also call the Pollinator Habitat Help Desk at (337) 422-4828 to learn more about how to participate in cost-sharing programs like CRP. We also encourage you to watch our interview with Nebraska farmer Chris Benes to get a firsthand perspective of someone who has participated in CRP for several years.
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. In General CRP or in Continuous CRP, the producer has the option to supplement seed mixture in order to add species to improve the planting for pollinators. See your USDA Service Center for specific information on how to add diversity to your seed mixture. A good goal for a pollinator planting is 40+ species that includes a variety of plants that will bloom at all different times of the growing season. Those early and late blooming species are especially of significant importance. When you are considering providing forage for certain species like the monarch butterfly, it is key to include at least one or more appropriate milkweed species in that mix. Also note that more species does not have to mean more expensive.
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) (or a combination of these practices together, ex: 90% CP25 with 10% CP42) 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.
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
- 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
- Select a diverse native planting like a CP42, 38, 25, or 50pts CP2, to gain highest EBI score
- 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. There is a minimum enrollment of ½ an acre. 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 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 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
- You have the option to increase the diversity of their seed mixture in any CRP practice. including more than the minimum recommended species will improve pollinator benefits. A good target is 40 species or more. Please note that more species doesn’t have to mean more expensive.
- 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