The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a federal-state natural resource conservation program that ad¬dresses state and nationally significant agricultural related environmental problems. Under CREP, program participants receive financial incentives from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) to voluntarily enroll eligible farmland in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in contracts of 10- to 15-years.
Participants remove suitable cropland and marginal pastureland from agricultural production and convert the land to buffers and related practices using native grasses, forbs, shrubs, trees, wetlands and other covers. CRP is authorized by the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended.
With the announcement of the Pennsylvania Ohio River Basin CREP, which spans much of the western half of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania's original CREP project, which covered much of the eastern half of the state to serve the Chesapeake Bay watershed, CREP now covers the state's two major watersheds.
The Pennsylvania Ohio River Basin CREP is designed to help farmers and other landowners reduce nutrient and sediment loading of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, and the streams and tributaries. The program will improve western Pennsylvania's surface water quality, groundwater quality and wildlife habitat. The Pennsylvania CREP will also contribute toward decreasing the Gulf of Mexico's hypoxia zone through nutrient loading reduction.
Sign-Up and Eligibility Requirements
Sign-up for the Pennsylvania CREP began April 19, 2004, and continues until enrollment goals are attained, and as long as there is statutory authority for CRP. Certain cropland must meet CRP cropping history criteria and be physically and legally capable of being cropped in a normal manner. Certain marginal pastureland is also eligible for enrollment provided it is suitable for use as a buffer practice. Producers who have acreage under an existing CRP contract are ineligible for CREP on that acreage until that contract expires. Other requirements will also apply. Contract terms will be set out in the CRP contract and regulations.
Producers can voluntarily offer eligible cropland and marginal pastureland in Pennsylvania's Ohio River drainage basin, which consists of 16 counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Warren, Washington and Westmoreland. Interested producers should contact their county FSA office for specific information regarding their eligibility for CREP.
The goals of the Pennsylvania Ohio River Basin CREP are to:
- Permit western Pennsylvania's producers to voluntarily restore and protect wetlands, highly erodible land (HEL – weighted EI greater than or equal to 8), and riparian areas by enrolling up to 40,000 acres of cropland into the Ohio River Basin CREP.
- Reduce erosion on cropland by an estimated 10,154 tons per year using March 4, 2004, as the beginning of the base period for measuring erosion reduction levels.
- Prevent 10,154 tons of sediment and 738,500 pounds of nitrogen and 16,000 pounds of phosphorous per year, from entering the Ohio River and Gulf of Mexico, using sediment and nitrogen loading levels measured on March 4, 2004.
- Restore and enhance riparian habitat corridors next to streams, estuaries, wetlands and other watercourses by seeking to enroll at least 6,000 acres of buffers, grass filter strips and wetlands.
- Restore cover on up to 34,000 acres of HEL to protect water quality and create wildlife habitat, particularly grassland habitat for song and ground-nesting birds, by planting native warm-season grasses and/or cool-season grasses, creating field borders, and protecting intact habitats.
Approved Conservation Practices
To better serve program goals, the following CRP conservation practices are included in the Pennsylvania Ohio River Basin CREP:
For acreage enrolled to protect or retire highly erodible land and/or protect/restore wildlife habitat:
- CP1 - Permanent Introduced Grasses and Legumes;
- CP2 - Permanent Native Grasses;
- CP4D - Permanent Wildlife Habitat, Non-easement;
- CP12 - Wildlife Food Plot.
For acreage enrolled to protect or restore riparian wildlife habitat, wetland habitat, stream habitat and water quality:
- CP 8A – Grass waterway Non-easement;
- CP9 - Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife;
- CP15A - Permanent Vegetative Cover (Contour Grass Strips), Non-easement;
- CP21 - Filter Strips (Grass Strips);
- CP22 - Riparian Buffers (Trees Planted Next to Streams);
- CP23 - Wetland Restoration;
- CP29 - Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffer;
- CP30 - Marginal Pastureland Wetland Buffer and;
- CP33-Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds.
Haying and Grazing
Haying and grazing are not permitted during the contract period unless USDA approves them for emergency or managed haying and grazing purposes, if applicable, under normal CRP rules.
Subject to contract terms and certain limitations, Pennsylvania CREP participants will be eligible for the following types of USDA payments:
- Signing Incentive Payment: A one-time payment consistent with FSA Handbook 2-CRP for land enrolled under approved conservation practices. This payment is made after the contract has been signed and approved.
- Practice Incentive Payment: A one-time payment equal to 40 percent of the eligible cost for enrollment under approved conservation practices.
- Cost-share Assistance: Cost-share of up to 50 percent for the installation of approved conservation practices.
- Annual Rental Payment: An annual payment for the life of the contract. This payment consists of three components:
- 1. Base Soil Rental Rate (SRR), which is determined by calculating the normal weighted average soil rental rate for the three predominant soil types using the current posted applicable local CRP soil rental rates.
- 2. Annual Maintenance Payment in an amount consistent with applicable CRP procedures.
- 3. Incentive Payment for:
- Cropland enrolled to "protect or retire highly erodible land and/or protect/restore wildlife habitat" under conservation practices CP1, CP2, CP4D, CP10 and CP12. The incentive payments for these practices are Credibility-Index (EI) based as follows:
- 0.75 times the applicable SRR for land with an EI between 8 and 12;
- 1.5 times the SRR for land with an EI greater than 12 to 20;
- 1.75 times the SRR for land with an EI greater than 20 to 25;
- 2.0 times the SRR for land with an EI greater than 25 to 30 and;
- 2.25 times the SRR for land with an EI greater than 30.
- 1.5 times the SRR for cropland or marginal pastureland enrolled to "protect/restore riparian wildlife habitat, wetland habitat, stream habitat and water quality" under conservation practices CP8A, CP9, CP15A, CP21, CP22, CP23, CP29 and CP30.
In addition, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will:
- Provide cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent to install approved conservation practices;
- Provide in-kind services directly related to the implementation of agricultural best management practices through the county conservation districts and other non-government organizations;
- Pay costs associated with Pennsylvania Game Commission efforts to develop animal and bird habitats to enhance the impact of the lands retired through CREP; and
- Pay costs associated with providing other technical assistance, as necessary, through appropriate Commonwealth agencies, including County Conservation Districts, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture field staff, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., and other organizations providing technical assistance.
The total cost over a 15-year period is estimated at $146 million, with USDA contributing $99 million and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania funding $47 million. The $146 million does not include any practice costs that may be incurred by participants.
Enrollment in Other Programs
CREP is another option under CRP that farmers and ranchers may select to enhance their land; applicants may still enroll eligible land in the regular general CRP or other CRP sign-ups when CREP is initiated. However, CREP may provide additional benefits not available through the general and/or continuous sign-up. For instance, per acre CREP payments are usually at a higher rate.
For More Information
More information on the Pennsylvania Ohio River Basin CREP is available from county FSA offices and on FSA's website at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/crp
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