A general Conservation Reserve Program, Signup 54, is underway and will extend through Feb. 28. The signup provides opportunities to enroll erodible, unproductive and other sensitive cropland in contracts of 10 to 15 years in return for annual rental payments and possibly other financial incentives.
Eligible land would need to have a cropping history for at least four of the six years from 2012 to 2017 or be an expired contract from the last three years that did not have a chance for re-enrollment.
The CRP has been in effect since 1985 and is credited with saving billions of tons of soil from eroding, improving water quality, and restoring millions of acres of wildlife and pollinator habitat.
Since 2008, there has been a "State Acres For wildlife Enhancement Bobwhite Habitat Restoration" practice available in Tennessee. The practice is targeted to provide high quality habitat to benefit Tennessee's state game bird, the bobwhite quail, and other declining wildlife such as cottontail rabbits and prairie warblers. The SAFE vegetation, comprised of native grasses, forbs and shrubs, is often also utilized by deer and turkey. A survey of SAFE landowners conducted by TWRA indicated almost half of SAFE participants' perceived bobwhite populations had increased on their SAFE tract while only 6% thought they declined.
This SAFE practice was previously offered under a continuous signup, but will now only be offered by the USDA-Farm Service Agency under annual general signups where offers will compete with offers from applicants nationwide. SAFE practice offers should rank high in consideration for acceptance, as planting or establishing the highest scoring wildlife cover mixture is the best way to improve chances of offer acceptance.
General Signup 54 practice options most beneficial to wildlife include:
• CP2 Native Grasses and Legumes
• CP3A Hardwood Tree Planting
• CP4B Permanent Wildlife Habitat Corridors
• CP4D Permanent Wildlife Habitat
• CP12 Wildlife Food Plots (only to be included as component of other practices)
• CP25 Rare and Declining Wildlife Habitat -- Prairies and Savannahs
• CP42 Pollinator Habitat (block plantings are preferred over strips)
A Continuous CRP signup (Signup 53) is ongoing through Aug. 21, and applications are approved as long as the applicant and land offered meet criteria eligibility (no competition). Continuous Signup applications will be accepted for the following CRP practices:
• CP8A Grass Waterway
• CP9 Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife
• CP12 Wildlife Food Plot (as a component of CP1, CP2, CP3, CP3A, CP4D, CP23, CP23A, CP25 and CP38E)
• CP21 Filter Strips
• CP22 Riparian Buffer
• CP23 Wetland Restoration
• CP29 Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffer
• CP30 Marginal Pastureland Wetland Buffer
• CP31 Bottomland Timber Establishment on Wetlands
• CP33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds
• CP38B SAFE Wetlands Restoration
• CP38E SAFE Bobwhite Habitat Restoration
• CP42 -- Pollinator Habitat (limited to 10 acres per tract offered and not to exceed 10% of the cropland acres of the farm. Strips must be a minimum of 20 feet wide, and individual habitat areas much be at least 0.5 acres in size).
• CP43 -- Prairie Strip (new practice for buffer strips around and/or through crop fields; may not exceed 25% of cropland area per field)
All Continuous CRP practices are eligible for a Signing Incentive Payment and a Practice Incentive Payment. No General Signup practices are eligible for SIP or PIP incentives.
A signup period for existing grasslands will be held from March 16 to May 15. Enrolled grasslands can be maintained as grazing lands.
"For landowners looking to retire sensitive or unproductive fields from crop production, enrolling them in selected CRP options can be profitable and also provide some great wildlife habitat," said Mark Gudlin, Habitat Program Manager for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Questions regarding the current CRP General Signup, Continuous Signup and upcoming Grasslands Signup should be directed to your local USDA Service Center.