Western Pa. environmental farm program launched


HOOKSTOWN, Pa. – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell joined hands in a Beaver County barn Monday to launch a $146 million Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in western Pennsylvania.

McElhaney Stock Farm owners Dick and Kay McElhaney rolled out the red carpet, welcoming Veneman, Rendell, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart and other state and local officials for the official announcement.

Speaking to a crowd that overflowed into the haymows of the McElhaney’s bank barn, Veneman explained why she believes so strongly in the program.

“It’s a win for the environment, for the farmers, for the economy,” she said.

“It’s a results-oriented program.”

About the program. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP, covers 16 counties in the Ohio River basin. It stretches from Erie and Warren counties in the north to Greene and Fayette counties in the south.

Farmers in these counties are eligible to receive payments to voluntarily enroll environmentally sensitive ground into the Conservation Reserve Program in 10- or 15-year contracts.

In exchange for the payments, farmers remove land from agricultural production and implement conservation practices such as groundcovers, buffers, trees or wildlife food plots.

Farms will be monitored annually by state or third-party agencies to measure progress.

The program targets 65,000 acres of marginal cropland and pastureland. The goal is to restore and protect wetlands, highly erodible land and riparian area within the river basin.

The environmental benefits – reduced sediment and nutrient loading – will ultimately stretch into the Gulf of Mexico, Veneman added.

Economic boost. “The best benefit of all is what it does for farmers,” said Rendell. “This is a great day for Pennsylvania farmers.”

He said the original $146 million will pump more than $400 million into the region’s economy over the 15-year life of the program.

USDA is contributing $99 million to fund the 15-year program and Pennsylvania is kicking in $47 million.

Signup begins April 19 and remains open through Dec. 31, 2007, or until enrollment goals are reached. Producers can sign up at any time.

Rental rates. The average rate of the conservation reserve program nationwide is $43 per acre. The state’s average CREP rental rate is $99.

The actual amount farmers receive varies, depending on local land rental rates, cost of practices, and maintenance costs.

Pennsylvania landowners can look for annual rental payments between $60 and $130 per acre, said Bill Foose, conservation program chief for USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Pennsylvania.

At the higher end of the range will be highly erodible land and riparian land that buffers waterways, Foose said.

Statewide. The expansion means Pennsylvania has the largest land base eligible for the CREP in the country, Pa. Gov. Rendell said.

All Pennsylvania counties, except for eight counties along the eastern border, are eligible in one of three CREP partnerships.

The original project, announced in 2000, targeted 20 counties in the lower Susquehanna and Potomac river basins. That expanded last August to include 23 more counties that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

As of Feb. 28, Pennsylvania had 4,551 CREP contracts covering 83,147 acres.

At a glance:

Ohio River Basin Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

n      Eligible counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland.

n      A one-time payment of $100-$150 per acre is made after the contract is approved. Landowners also receive a one-time practice incentive payment.


n      The federal government will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing conservation practices; Pennsylvania may pay up to 50 percent of the remaining cost.

n      An annual rental payment is based on soil type, maintenance payment and indexed environmental priorities.

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