LUBBOCK, October 10, 2003 By Shawn Wade
The recently announced results ofSign-up 26 of the Conservation Reserve Program left many Texas applicants withan uneasy feeling and a ton of questions.
For officials at Plains CottonGrowers, Inc. one of the most visible and surprising statistics of all was thatless than 25 percent of the applications submitted from Texas were eventuallyapproved.
For the other 75-plus percent,which included a significant number of applications on current CRP contractacreage, the obvious question is: “What can be done to keep currently enrolledCRP acreage in the program and maintain the conservation benefits that theyprovide?”
What it really comes down to,however, is how can applicants improve their offer’s Environmental BenefitsIndex (EBI) score and improve their chances of being accepted or, moreimportantly, reaccepted.
For several years EBI scores havebeen the basis for ranking and determining which applications will or will notbe accepted.
It is understood that as years goby and conservation priorities change that different weight is placed onvarious portions of the EBI.
What Sign-up 26 brought to lightwas the fact that existing CRP contracts fail to receive any additional EBIcredit when reapplying, even though the acreage was deemed worthy ofconservation in the past.
The following EBI factors were usedto assess and rank offers during Sign-up 26: Wildlife Habitat benefits; WaterQuality benefits; On-farm benefits; Enduring benefits; Air Quality benefits;and Cost.
Sub-categories identified specificconservation practices and the credit (score) received for them.
The average EBI score for acceptedapplications during the most recent sign-up was 269, although counties at ornear the CRP cropland limitation could have had a higher EBI cut-off score.
Nationwide contracts were offeredon some 4.0 million acres. Approximately 1.6 million of those acres werecurrently enrolled in the CRP. Only 700,000 acres of currently enrolled CRPacres were accepted and will remain in the program.
A strong argument can be made thatmuch of this acreage needs to remain in the CRP instead of being reintroducedto crop production.
Land in the CRP program was placedthere for a reason and should have every opportunity to remain activelyenrolled in order to extend the benefits the CRP provides.
It is also important that theprocedures governing future CRP sign-ups give additional credit to existing CRPacreage and the conservation benefits that have already been accrued.
One idea that could keep thousandsof acres of highly erodible land in the CRP would be to grant additional creditwithin the EBI framework for currently enrolled acres.
It seems only fair that landownerswho are participating in the program, at some point, be given extra credit forthe conservation practices and benefits they have already realized through theprogram.
Another option to bridge the timeit takes to implement such a revision would be contract extensions that allowlandowners an opportunity to reapply for the program during the next sign-upperiod.
PCG officials say that efforts toseek these changes and investigate other areas where improvements in the CRPsign-up process can be made will be continued.
Nationwide the CRP has been anoverwhelming success and has allowed millions of acres of highly erodible landto be retired from crop production.
One thing that must be rememberedis that, even though the CRP remains a dynamic program that reflects thechanging conservation priorities of the nation, the priorities that broughtacreage into the program in the first place should not be ignored.
Doing so would quickly erase manyof the positive benefits that are being realized through the program on a dailybasis.