WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently finalized changes to the provisions of the Ohio River Basin Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
The project revisions adjust total project acreage ceilings in the Ohio River counties.
USDA implemented the federal-state-private partnership in 2000 and now targets 40,000 acres in the Ohio River Basin.
“Farmers and landowners from the 16 Pennsylvania counties in the Ohio River Basin who are interested in enrolling land into CREP should call or visit their local FSA county office,” said FSA Pennsylvania State Executive Director Bill Wehry.
The USDA and Pennsylvania also recently finalized changes to the provisions of the CREP that will increase the acreage ceiling by nearly 20,000 acres and make all Pennsylvania CREP practices eligible for sign-up in Chesapeake Bay watershed counties.
The revisions will help reduce sediment and nutrient loadings from farmland into the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania 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,” said Michael Scuse, Under Secretary 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 Pennsylvania CREP will be expanded again to add 19,746 acres and is available to all 43 Pennsylvania counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
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.