COLUMBIA, Mo. — Interest in signing up land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is likely to be high, said a policy analyst at the University of Missouri.

"It has been three years since the last general sign up," said Pat Westhoff at MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI).

"According to USDA, approximately 1.5 million acres of current CRP contracts will expire this year, and many farmers will be interested in re-enrolling those acres."

Under CRP, farmers enroll environmentally sensitive cropland in the reserve and receive annual rental payments from the government.

Deadline for the CRP signup is May 30 at local Farm Service Agency offices.

USDA reports that $1.58 billion was paid last year in rent for 33.9 million acres enrolled nationwide. That gives a national average of $46.68 per acre.

In Missouri, the corresponding numbers were $101.5 million on 1.55 million acres. That averages out to $65.42 per acre.

Land that ranks high on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) is most likely to be accepted.

The current farm bill increases the maximum permitted size of the CRP from the previous limit of 36.4 million acres to 39.2 million acres. The new law also makes several changes in eligibility, Westhoff said.

In the past, it was possible to bring new land into production for a short period and then enroll it in CRP. That is no longer allowed.

Under the new farm bill, land is generally not eligible unless it is already in CRP or unless it was planted at least four of the six years between 1996 and 2001.

"Under these rules, land that was never in crop production prior to 1998 will generally be ineligible," Westhoff said. "That is not just this year, but forever."

USDA has announced that it will hold back about 2 million acres for use in the continuous CRP signup. This program is used to enroll limited acreages, such as in filter strips and stream corridors.

Westhoff does not anticipate that increased acreage in CRP will have great impact on crop production nationally — nor a big impact on crop prices. However, heavy enrollment in a particular county could have local impact.

"If a lot of expiring contracts in a region are not renewed, that could result in significant economic and environmental changes," Westhoff said.

Details on signup requirements are available at local USDA FSA offices.

Duane Dailey is an Extension and ag information senior writer for the University of Missouri.