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USDA invests $1.7 billion to protect agricultural lands

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue nearly $1.7 billion in payments to more than a half-million Americans who have contracts with the government to protect sensitive agricultural lands. The investment, part of the voluntary USDA Conservation Reserve Program, will allow producers to protect almost 24 million acres of wetlands, grasslands and wildlife habitat in 2016.

CRP provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who remove environmentally sensitive land from production to be planted with certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.

In return for enrolling in CRP, USDA, through the Farm Service Agency, provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Landowners enter into contracts that last between 10 and 15 years.

More than 1.3 million acres were newly enrolled in CRP in fiscal year 2016 using the continuous enrollment authority, triple the pace of the previous year. In fiscal year 2016, Farm Service Agency also accepted 411,000 acres through its general enrollment authority, plus 101,000 acres in the new CRP-Grasslands program, which balances conservation with working lands.

More than 70 percent of the acres enrolled in CRP-Grasslands are diverse native grasslands under threat of conversion, with more than 97 percent of the acres having a new, veteran or underserved farmer or rancher as a primary producer.

The program provides 15 million acres that are beneficial to pollinators, and hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat that has resurrected waterfowl and gamebird populations, like pheasants, quail and prairie chicken.

CRP has sequestered an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road, and prevented 9 billion tons of soil from erosion, enough to fill 600 million dump trucks.

For more information about CRP, contact the local Farm Service Agency office at (320) 763-3191, ext. 2, or visit www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.

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