USDA has begun issuing payments of nearly $1.6 billion to producers participating in the Conservation Reserve Program. The payments, which USDA began mailing in early October, are aimed at helping producers and landowners protect lands that meet certain environmental criteria and might be better left out of crop production.

“This is one of several conservation programs that provides incentives for farmers and ranchers to strengthen environmental stewardship of their lands,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. “This program gives producers additional resources to reduce topsoil erosion, increase wildlife habitat and improve air and water quality on these lands.”

Under the CRP, which was re-authorized in the 2002 farm bill, producers voluntarily retire environmentally sensitive cropland for 10 to 15 years. In return, USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) makes annual rental payments to producers and shares the cost of establishing approved conservation practices.

Land to be enrolled must either be highly erodible, contribute to a serious water quality problem, provide important wildlife habitat, or provide substantial environmental benefits if devoted to certain specific conservation uses.

Current payments will average $4,455 per farm and $46.68 per acre on 590,000 contracts and 355,000 farms.

Other CRP payments, including reimbursement of 50-percent of vegetative-cover establishment expenses and incentive payments for enrolling eligible conservation practices, are made throughout the year. In fiscal 2002, these payments are anticipated to amount to $145 million for cover cost reimbursements and $115 million for incentive payments.

A table listing (for some Sunbelt states) the number of acres enrolled, the amount of CRP rental payments, and number of contracts and farms follows. This includes CRP acreage as of September 2002 and October 2002 rental payments.

STATE ACRES ENROLLED RENTAL PAYMENTS NUMBER OF CONTRACTS NUMBER OF FARMS
ALABAMA 479,976 21,289,004 9,838 7,412
ARKANSAS 160,608 6,873,018 2,976 1,977
CALIFORNIA 138,912 4,022,849 460 346
DELAWARE 6,587 622,473 584 299
FLORIDA 88,450 3,313,675 1,933 1,579
GEORGIA 312,397 12,361,190 8,169 6,198
KENTUCKY 312,031 22,232,597 11,449 7,357
LOUISIANA 203,681 8,983,964 2,743 1,960
MARYLAND 60,250 5,946,309 4,619 2,554
MISSISSIPPI 864,887 33,989,544 17,511 11,976
MISSOURI 1,552,298 101,548,660 30,631 19,209
NEW MEXICO 592,671 18,544,736 2,589 1,620
NORTH CAROLINA 113,114 6,146,068 6,346 4,348
OKLAHOMA 1,023,692 33,195,494 8,584 5,909
SOUTH CAROLINA 218,505 7,634,119 8,614 5,102
TENNESSEE 248,735 13,563,678 7,084 5,299
TEXAS 4,036,877 142,631,112 23,968 17,454
VIRGINIA 55,424 2,462,071 3,286 2,680