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USDA Announces More Than 1.2 Million Acres Accepted in Recent Signup for Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced on July 9 that it had accepted more than 1.2 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands during the recent signup period that began March 16 and ended May 15. The number of acres offered was 1.9 million acres – over 3 times the number offered during the last signup period in 2016.
“This large and unprecedented enrollment is a reflection of the popularity and importance of CRP Grasslands,” said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. “The program emphasizes support for grazing operations and plant and animal biodiversity while protecting land under the greatest threat of conversion or development.”
According to research published online in September by the journal Science, wild bird populations in the continental U.S. and Canada have declined by almost 30% since 1970. Grassland birds have suffered the steepest losses, with a population decline of 700 million birds. The biggest declines are among birds beloved by birdwatchers and hunters alike, such as Northern Bobwhite. Bobwhite populations have declined by 78% since 1970, and the species is designated as a species of greatest conservation need in 26 states.
The 2018 Farm Bill set aside not fewer than 2 million acres for CRP Grasslands enrollment. The program allows farmers and ranchers to protect grasslands, rangelands, and pastures while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices, such as haying, mowing, or harvesting seed from the enrolled land. Timing of some activities may be restricted by the primary nesting season of birds.
CRP is one of the largest conservation programs at USDA and marks its 35-year anniversary in 2020 with 21.9 million acres currently enrolled. By Oct. 1, 2020, CRP Grasslands enrollment is expected to be 2.1 million acres. Hopefully, this Farm Bill program will assist in restoring some grassland bird populations.