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CRP sign-up period continues through Aug. 27

WILLMAR -- Producers and landowners will have until Aug. 27 to submit offers to enroll new land into the Conservation Reserve Program. Offers are being accepted at local Farm Service Agency offices.

This is the first Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up period since the enactment of the 2008 farm bill. The last general sign-up period was conducted in April of 2006, when 1 million of the 1.4 million acres that were offered for enrollment were accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

During a general sign-up period, larger parcels of land will be considered for enrollment. However, bid offers will need to be submitted since acceptance is on a competitive basis and is not automatic.

A bid offer consists of a per acre rental rate that the producer or landowner is willing to accept as an annual payment from USDA.

In addition to offering new land for enrollment, participants with contracts that expire on Sept. 30 may also submit offers for possible re-enrollment. Nationally, there are approximately 4.5 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program that are scheduled to expire this fall.

All offers accepted by USDA during this general sign-up period will have an effective date of Oct. 1.

To be eligible for enrollment, the participant must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to the close of the sign-up period. Exceptions can be made when land was acquired due to the previous owner's death, foreclosure, or unique circumstances whereby land acquisition was not for the purpose of enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program.

To qualify, land must have been planted or "considered planted" to an agricultural commodity at least four years during the years 2002-2007.

An environmental benefits index will be used to rank each offer submitted during the sign-up period. Only those offers having the highest index scores will be accepted for enrollment.

When determining the environmental benefits index score, USDA will consider the per acre rental rate offered by the producer, plus five environmental factors. Those factors include soil erosion, water quality, air quality, enduring benefits and wildlife habitat.

By entering into a 10- or 15-year contract with USDA, participants receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent of the cost to establish the long-term conservation practices agreed to during the sign-up period.

The 2008 farm bill authorized up to 32 million acres for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program. Currently there are approximately 31.3 million acres enrolled, making CRP the nation's largest voluntary conservation program on privately owned land.

USDA to upgrade farm program delivery system

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a new initiative that will improve customer service through the use of updated technology.

The initiative, known as "Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems," is an effort to update the farm program delivery system and provide better service to farmers and landowners.

The updated technology will be deployed in local Farm Service Agency offices, and is expected to transform the way the agency's field staff delivers farm programs and benefits to producers served by more than 2,200 offices throughout the nation.

Applications being accepted for durum wheat program

Local Farm Service Agency offices are now accepting applications for the Durum Wheat Quality Program. Under the program, producers may receive 50 percent of the cost of applying fungicides to durum wheat to control fusarium head blight, commonly known as wheat scab.

The 2008 farm bill authorized up to $10 million for the program for the 2009 through 2012 fiscal years. While Congress did not allocate any program funding for the 2009 fiscal year, $3 million was allocated for the 2010 fiscal year.

The deadline to apply for benefits is Sept. 15 for the 2010 crop year.

To be eligible, a producer must have used an eligible fungicide to control fusarium head blight on acres planted to durum wheat during the 2010 crop year. In addition, the producer must provide verifiable documentation for the purchase of an eligible fungicide.

Since the program is subject to available funding, application periods for subsequent years will be announced if funding becomes available.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.