Conservation in the United States

The United States


Congress authorized the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the 1985 farm bill, also known as the Food Security Act. CRP is managed by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, and provides money and technical help to producers who agree to take environmentally sensitive land out of crop production and plant permanent vegetation.

Producers can offer to enroll land into CRP through continuous or general sign-ups. General sign-ups are competitive, and the Farm Service Agency selects applicants based on an environmental benefits index that estimates the possible environmental benefits of enrolling the offered land. Continuous sign-ups are not competitive, and are targeted at enrolling particularly sensitive land to mitigate specific environmental and natural resource concerns. The continuous sign-up operates through a number of special initiatives.

If selected to participate, the producer enters into a 10-year contract in which he or she agrees to take the land out of crop production and plant various types of conservation cover. Producers can currently choose between 45 conservation cover practices that specify what conservation outcome is to be addressed and what kind of vegetation must be planted and maintained while the contract is in force. 

Producers receive payments for part of the cost of establishing the conservation cover, and annual rental payments while the land is enrolled in the program. When the contract expires, the producer can put the enrolled acres back into crop production or propose to extend the contract for another 10 years.

The acres enrolled in CRP peaked in 2007 at 36.8 million acres. In 2015, enrollment had declined to 24.2 million acres due to caps on enrollment imposed by Congress and high crop prices that encouraged producers to put land back into production.

About the Data"

We used the following data, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, to structure the CRP data presented in the database:

  • Payments by recipient
  • Acres enrolled by fiscal year
  • Acres enrolled in each conservation cover practice by fiscal year

The data is limited to active CRP contracts. EWG did not receive data from expired contracts.


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