The deadline for agricultural producers to sign up for the general Conservation Reserve Program through the United States Department of Agriculture is Feb. 28 while signup for continuous CRP is ongoing.
    Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive a yearly rental payment for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as covers) to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands.
    CRP has 22 million acres enrolled, but the 2018 farm bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. This means farmers and ranchers have a chance to enroll in CRP for the first time or continue their participation for another term.
    By enrolling in CRP, producers are improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and restoring habitat for wildlife. This in turn spurs hunting, fishing, recreation, tourism and other economic development across rural America.
    CRP general signup will be held annually. The competitive general signup will now include increased opportunities for enrollment of wildlife habitat through the SAFE initiative: State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement.  
    While some practices under SAFE will remain available through continuous signup, CRP continuous signup will focus primarily on water quality with the Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) Initiative. The 2018 farm bill prioritizes water quality practices such as contour grass strips, filter strips, riparian buffers, wetlands and a new prairie strip.
    The USDA will also be working with Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program partners to relaunch CREP continuous options in each state under new statutory provisions. CREP will continue to target high-priority local, state or regional conservation concerns.
    The CRP Transition Incentives Program is an option for producers interested in transitioning land to a beginning farmer or rancher or a member of a socially disadvantaged group to return land to production for sustainable grazing or crop production. CRP contract holders no longer need to be a retired or retiring owner or operator to transition their land. TIP participants may have a lease less than five years with an option to purchase, and they have two years before the end of the CRP contract to make conservation and land improvements.  
    Land enrolled in CRP under a 15-year contract that expired in September 2017, 2018 or 2019, may be eligible for enrollment if there was no opportunity for re-enrollment, and the practice under the expired contract has been maintained.    
    FSA recently posted updated soil rental rates for CRP on its website. Soil rental rates are statutorily prorated at 90% for continuous signup and 85% for general signup. The rental rates will be assessed annually. Under continuous signup, producers also receive incentives, including a signup incentive payment and a practice incentive payment.
    To enroll in CRP, contact a FSA county office or visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.
    A reminder: The sign-up period for the 2019 Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs ends March 16. Contact a Farm Service Agency office as soon as you know your election and complete this process soon.
    Farm Service Agency is an Equal Opportunity Lender. Complaints about discrimination should be sent to: Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250. Visit the Farm Service Agency Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov/ for necessary application forms and updates on USDA programs.