The next Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up will be held Jan. 18 through Feb. 11, in local U.S. Department of Agriculture service centers.

USDA will continue to evaluate and rank eligible CRP offers using an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI), which is based on the potential environmental benefits gained for enrolling the land in CRP. Decisions on the EBI cutoff will be made after sign-up 20 ends. The EBI cutoff used in previous sign-ups may not be used for this one. The cutoff is decided after analyzing the EBI numbers of all the offers. Those who would have met previous sign-ups EBI thresholds are not guaranteed a contract under sign-up 20.

The EBI in place for the 20th sign-up is very similar to the EBI used for last year's sign-up.

The Farm Service Agency is authorized to maintain CRP enrollment up to 36.4 million acres. Approximately 31.5 million acres were enrolled in CRP contracts as of Oct. 1, 1999. About 400,000 acres subject to CRP contracts will expire Sept. 30, 2000. The contracts awarded under sign-up 20 will become effective Oct. 1, 2000.

The CRP is designed to improve the nation's natural resource base. Participants voluntarily enter into contracts with USDA to enroll erodible and other environmentally sensitive land in long-term contracts for 10 to 15 years. In exchange, participants receive annual rental payments and a payment of up to 50% of the cost of establishing conservation practices.

The program protects millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion. By reducing water runoff and sedimentation, it also protects groundwater and helps improve the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted to resource-conserving (vegetative) covers, which make the program the major contributor to increases in wildlife populations, in many parts of the country.

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