USDA may not have an adequate budget once sequestration becomes effective on March 1, but Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has apparently found funding to start a new enrollment period for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). At the annual Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic last weekend in Minnesota, Secretary Vilsack announced USDA will have a new enrollment sign-up for CRP from May 20 until June 14.

“Since the 1980s, the CRP program has established itself as a benchmark in voluntary conservation efforts, providing American producers with assets to address our most critical resource issues,” Vilsack said in a news release. “Last year, during one of the worst droughts in generations, the CRP proved vital in protecting our most environmentally sensitive lands from erosion. Emergency haying and grazing on CRP lands also supplied critical feed and forage for livestock producers due to the drought. And the program continues to bring substantial returns to rural areas, attracting recreation and tourism dollars into local economies while sustaining natural and wildlife habitat for future generations.”

Contracts on about 3.3 million acres will expire this fall. CRP now has 27 million acres, one of its lowest acreage levels since the program began after the 1985 farm bill. Vilsack added that additional sign-ups for continuous CRP programs will be announced later this spring for programs such as the Highly Erodible Land Initiative and Initiative to Restore Grasslands, Wetlands, and Wildlife. CRP costs taxpayers $1.8 billion annually. On a related note, a number of crop analysts question whether the current drought conditions in the Western Corn Belt will improve to allow for at least trendline yields for corn and soybeans this harvest.