The Conservation Reserve Program: What's In It For Me?

Put into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) offers landowners a lucrative way to conserve land—and benefit two-fold. It pays an incentive payment or stipend to owners of qualifying tracts and repurposes land into timber production and wildlife habitat. However, not all land is suited to CRP. That should factor into your decision to enroll in the program. Learn more about the program, along with its advantages and disadvantages, below. 

What Exactly Is the Conservation Reserve Program? 

With roots in 1950s-era conservation and agriculture legislation, the Conservation Reserve Program serves as one of the largest private-land conservation initiatives in the U.S. Landowners enrolled in the program receive a yearly rental payment, or stipend, to convert qualifying unused farmland into re-timbered production or habitat. The program centers heavily around environmentally sensitive tracts, with the main aim of the initiative being to replenish high-value land vegetation in an effort to control soil erosion, wildlife habitat loss, and water quality. 

Sometimes, CRP and the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) get confused or seem interchangeable. The NRCS differs from the CRP, as it is a government agency under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). EQIP is another commonly confused program. EQIP stands for Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and it is an NRCS-driven program. However, EQIP is a voluntary program, with NRCS co-investing with you to implement conservation practices on your land. 

CRP contracts range between 10 to 15 years in length, and there are qualifying stipulations to enroll in the program. 

What Land Qualifies?

General CRP requires that qualifying land be designated as cropland, including field margins, that have been agriculturally planted in four of the previous six harvests. General CRP land must also be both legally and physically agriculturally capable without enhancements. 

Continuous CRP land must be deemed as marginal pastureland, bordered by river, creek, stream, sink-hole, or duck nest. The land must also be eligible for specific (but not exclusive) conservation practices, such as wetland buffers, wildlife habitat buffers, wetland restoration, shelterbelts, and more. 

To qualify for CRP, landowners must also meet certain criteria. A landowner must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien and must have at least owned or operated the land one year before requesting enrollment. The only exemptions are if the land was inherited upon the previous landowner’s passing, ownership changed hands due to foreclosure, and/or the FSA determines the land was not gained for the sole purpose of enrolling in the CRP. 

What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of the CRP?

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in the CRP? The CRP directly benefits you by providing a yearly stipend for you to pocket. It also allows you to repurpose land into timber production or natural habitat, which can leave you with less work to do overall (and may even present you with new money-making ventures in the process). It is also helpful to the environment, restoring habitat, curbing erosion, and improving soil and water quality for future development and/or use. 

However, enrolling in the CRP can have a potential downside: you can not use that land for agricultural purposes for the amount of time it is in the program (10–15 years). 

Is enrolling in the CRP right for you? If you are still unsure, it may be time to reach out to the land experts: Tutt Land! Contact us to go over your land options in full, whatever those might be. We can take a look at your unique situation, advise, and even help you buy or sell parcels!