USDA Alters Conservation Plans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced minor changes to its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs along the Ohio River basin and Chesapeake Bay waterways. This announcement comes in the midst of ongoing legal battles about the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to regulate pollution in the Chesapeake.

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs are a subsection of the USDA’s current Conservation Reserve Program. CREPs target particularly endangered regions and environments (specifically targeting water quality, soil erosion, and wildlife habitat problems) and increase per-acre payments to farmers who sign up for the more stringent environmental regulations. While farmers cannot be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, farmers interested in CREPs are encouraged to talk to their local Farm Service Agency representative to prepare to enroll their land when current contracts are up.

The USDA set up the current CREPs in the Ohio Basin and the Chesapeake Bay over 12 years ago. The modification to these programs announced this week is an increase in the total project acreage ceilings, increasing Ohio Basin acreage by 40,000 acres and increasing Chesapeake acreage by 20,000 acres.

According to the Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, “These changes will provide greater flexibility for more Pennsylvania farmers and other land owners to establish conservation cover and increase land stewardship within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

The Conservation Reserve adjustments represent an additional front in the federal government’s efforts to clean up pollution in major U.S. waterways. The EPA has already attempted to regulate sediment discharge into the Chesapeake more strictly, and the USDA, working with the EPA, has sought to work with farmers to help clean up the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer