Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA will accept 4.3 million acres offered by landowners under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up that ended Aug. 27.

“Interest in this open-enrollment period was high, and I'm pleased that producers and landowners across the nation continue to realize the environmental benefits of enrolling land in the CRP,” says Vilsack.

During the sign-up period, more than 50,000 offers were received on more than 4.8 million acres nationwide. Adding the 4.3 million acres will keep program enrollment close to the 32 million-acre statutory cap. It will bring total enrollment to 31.2 million acres, leaving sufficient room under the 32-million-acre cap to continue enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, continuous sign-up and other CRP options through fiscal year 2011.

USDA officials say they selected offers for enrollment based on an environmental benefits index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five factors are: wildlife enhancement, water quality, soil erosion, enduring benefits and air quality. The minimal acceptable EBI level for this sign-up was 200.

The average rental rate per acre for this sign-up is about $46. USDA implemented a number of measures including using additional EBI point incentives for producers to submit cost-effective offers, and producer outreach activities to encourage competitive offers on the most environmentally sensitive lands. These measures will maintain the high environmental benefits while decreasing the historic cost of the program, according to the officials.