Deadline Set For Farmers In Federal Conservation Program

GAINESVILLE — The deadline for farmers to sign contracts to begin or renew their participation in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is March 28, 1997, according to a University of Florida agricultural economist.

“More than half of all existing CRP contracts signed nationwide expire on September 30, 1997, and expiring contracts will not be automatically renewed,” said Evan Drummond with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). “Farmers with existing, expiring contracts must reapply at their local county USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Farm Service Agency if they wish to continue in the program.”

Drummond said there are currently about 2,500 contracts covering 135,000 acres in Florida, primarily in the Panhandle, and most of these expire at the end of September. March 28 is also the deadline for producers who want to enter the program for the first time. Otherwise, he said, they will have to wait for the 1998 sign-up period.

The CRP program, established by the federal farm bill in 1985, pays cropland owners to take their land out of crop production for periods of 10 years or more and put it into an approved conservation practice. These conservation practices may include growing trees or maintaining pastures. Goals of the conservation program are to improve water quality, air quality and wildlife habitats.

“The 1996 federal farm bill makes this program much greener’ than it has been in the past. That is, the program is now more focused on protecting and enhancing the environment,” Drummond said.

The UF/IFAS economist said the CRP is also beneficial because it removes a substantial amount of environmentally sensitive cropland from production, thereby helping alleviate the perennial problem of over production and resulting lower crop prices.

“Government payments for each year of the contract are roughly equivalent to the rental value of the property,” Drummond explained. “The average CRP rental rate in Florida is about $42 per acre, adding about $5.6 million to the Florida farm economy each year.”

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