Something for farmers to consider
Mahoning Valley farmers should consider offering some of their land to USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. The CRP awards government rental payments on a competitive basis to farmers who forego crop planting and implement conservation practices on some of their acreage. For many farmers, the program may present an opportunity to derive income from less-productive land. USDA is holding the 45th competitive sign-up for the program until June 14.
CRP contracts are awarded for planting non-crop cover plants to stop erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and protect water resources. Aside from the rental payments, benefits of the program may include enhanced hunting opportunities, higher property values due to aesthetic improvements, and increased soil, water and air quality. Producers can also improve yield averages and avoid erosion compliance issues by taking less-generative or highly-erodible land out of production.
In order to be eligible, the acreage offered for conservation must either be located in a state or national Conservation Priority Area or have a Soil Erodibility Index over 8. Trumbull County is entirely within the Great Lakes national CPA. Also, for farms outside state or national CPAs, an EI score over 8 is not uncommon. Visible sloping could signify an EI score over 8. Farmers can visit their local county FSA office, where staff will utilize GIS technology to evaluate the EI of the land in question or determine the precise location of the acreage with regard to conservation priority areas.
The land offered also must have been under the control of the owner or operator for the 12 months preceding the sign-up (with some exceptions including cropland passing through estate) and must have been planted four of the six crop years from 2002 to 2007, unless the land is subject to an expiring CRP agreement.
USDA will work with interested farmers to develop a conservation plan. Ultimately, USDA assigns each conservation offer an Environmental Benefit Index. USDA staff will help farmers increase the competitiveness of their offers by advising on the cover to be planted, environmental benefits to be attained, schedules for plan implementation and other details. At the close of the sign-up, USDA will determine the cut-off EBI score. All offers to the program scoring higher than the cut-off will be accepted to the CRP.
When enrolling in the CRP, the farmer must agree to the maintenance necessary to maintain the specified cover. This may involve tasks such as pest and weed control.
A farmer who thinks the CRP may be a good opportunity should visit the local FSA office by June 14. Area FSA offices include 520 West Main Street, Cortland (Trumbull County) and 1834 South Lincoln Avenue, Salem (Mahoning-Columbiana Counties).
Thomas Driscoll, Washington, D.C.
The writer grew up in Mahoning County and graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in 2002. He is a lawyer and maintains an agriculture policy blog at www.agtogo.blogspot.com.