USDA's Farm Service Agency and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry have entered into an agreement to implement a $121-million Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the Lower Ouachita River Basin area.

Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom and USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator James Little signed the agreement at the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Monroe.

“During the 15-year duration of CREP, nearly 50,000 acres of crop and pasture land in the Bayou Macon and Boeuf River watersheds will be treated for soil erosion control or converted to bottomland hardwood or other types of wetland habitat,” Odom said. “This conservation program is going to have a major positive impact on the environment in northeast Louisiana.”

The program encourages landowners to enroll environmentally sensitive agricultural lands into CREP for 15 years. The objective of the program is to assist landowners in implementing measures directed at maintaining or improving current water quality conditions in the Bayou Macon and Boeuf River Watersheds. Odom said significant economic impacts will also result from the program.

FSA will provide CREP participants certain incentive payments and cost-share assistance for installing approved conservation practices. State agencies including the Department of Agriculture and Forestry's Soil and Water Conservation office, Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality and the conservation group Ducks Unlimited will contribute services to assist with annual water quality monitoring and other efforts of the program.

The goal of the program, Odom said, is to reduce the sediment loading of the streams, bayous and lakes in the project area by 30 percent.

“Efforts will also be made to reduce runoff from agriculture lands containing dissolved nitrogen and phosphorous,” Odom said.

Shallow water areas and wetlands will be established for the purpose of removing the nutrients and other agriculture chemicals from runoff before it enters water bodies in the project area. Additionally, habitats for fish and wildlife resources will be created or improved by establishing over 13,000 acres of bottomland wildlife habitat, 17,000 acres of wetland habitat and 4,500 acres of riparian buffers.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry's Office of Soil and Water Conservation will administer the program for the state. Eight local soil and water conservation districts in partnership with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide technical assistance required by farmers to install water quality and soil erosion protection practices as well as measures to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Signup for CREP began May 9 and will continue until enrollment goals are attained or through Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first. Land enrolled in the program will remain under contract for 14 to 15 years.

For more information or to enroll, contact a local Soil and Water Conservation District office, Natural Resources Conservation Service office or the local FSA office.