The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers and rancher to take their private agricultural lands out of production, and to add cover such as trees and grasses instead. The goal of the program is to protect environmentally sensitive areas from soil erosion and improve the quality of natural resources and wildlife habitats.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Montana’s land is its legacy. Good land stewardship helps preserve the state’s agricultural traditions, supports abundant wildlife populations and protects its natural resources. With more than half of all Montana land in private ownership, programs for landowners and agricultural producers are key contributors to statewide conservation efforts. 

Conservation Reserve Program Overview

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was founded in 1985 by the USDA to incentivize private landowners to remove parts of their land from agricultural production in an effort to conserve and protect land that is considered environmentally sensitive. Participants must agree to plant cover (trees, shrubs and grasses) on their private land to help improve the quality of natural resources such as water and soil, and to protect wildlife habitats. The voluntary program provides an annual rental payment in exchange for the environmental conservation efforts of the landowner. To qualify, applicants must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months unless the land was recently inherited, or foreclosed by the previous owner.

Water reservoir reflecting cloudy sky on a Montana ranch

General Enrollment

Managed by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), CRP contracts typically have terms of 10-15 years and producers can apply for the program during the annual enrollment period. To qualify for enrollment the land must be planted cropland, and have been planted with an agricultural commodity for at least 4 of the 6 prior crop years. Land with alfalfa, other multi-year grasses and legume crops may also qualify if the rotation was less than 12 years in length. The land must also be in an area identified by the FSA as environmentally sensitive based on the risk of soil erosion. For full eligibility details, click here or contact your local FSA office.

Rental payment rates are determined by the FSA based on the potential environmental benefits to the land, relative soil productivity and average dryland cash rent. Rates vary from $10/acre to $300/acre. Enrollment offers from farmers and ranchers are ranked nationally, and applicants can offer to accept a lower rental payment rate to increase the chances they are selected for the competitive program. Cost share assistance is also available to participants to help cover up to 50 percent of the cost to establish ground cover and other improvements as required by the program. 

Other CRP Enrollments

The FSA also offers a continuous enrollment program which can be applied to at any time, and is not subject to a competitive bidding process. The maximum rental payment per acre for continuous enrollment is $300, and cost share is up to 50 percent. Land must be deemed environmentally sensitive and be used for certain qualifying conservation practices such as:

Green wheat growing under blue sky

  • Grass Waterway
  • Shallow Water Area for Wildlife
  • Contour Grass Strip
  • Filter Strip
  • Denitrifying Bioreactor on Filter Strip
  • Saturated Filter Strip
  • Riparian Buffer
  • Denitrifying Bioreactor on Riparian Buffer
  • Saturated Riparian Buffer
  • Wetland Restoration on Floodplain and Non-floodplain
  • Farmable Wetlands
  • Farmable Wetland Buffer
  • Marginal Pastureland Wetland Buffer
  • Duck Nesting Habitat
  • Farmable Wetlands Program (FWP)Constructed Wetland
  • FWP Aquaculture Wetland Restoration
  • FWP Flooded Prairie Wetland 

The CRP grasslands enrollment is designed for operators who want to continue their grazing practices or hay production while protecting the quality of grasslands that are important for plant and animal biodiversity. Applicants can make an offer to enroll their land in the program and will be ranked on the quality of existing grasslands, native species cover, location of the land relative to a state focus area for conservation and the size and type of their operation.

Over 20 million acres of soil are protected by CRP programs in the United States. The program has proven beneficial for preventing soil erosion and helping wildlife populations flourish. There are also benefits for farmers and ranchers—dedicating marginal, unproductive parcels of land to CRP can provide a source of income and an opportunity to invest in the improvement and conservation of land at the same time. 

Critics of the program say that CRP takes land out of production, inflates land values, and lessens production opportunities for younger operators. Landowners should also consider the saleability of land that is enrolled in a CRP—less tillable acres and building restrictions may impact the desirability of the property to potential buyers. Conservation programs may also have some unintended negative impacts such as the introduction of non-native species of cover and an increased risk of predators for wildlife. 

With plenty of pros and cons, do thorough research and consider your long-term goals when evaluating enrollment in a CRP or when buying or selling land that is already enrolled in a conservation program. Have more questions about conservation programs and what they mean for the Montana ranch market?

Contact Western Ranch Brokers for more information.

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The information contained herein was obtained from sources deemed to be reliable. Western Ranch Brokers makes no warranties or guarantees as to the completeness or accuracy thereof.
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