Vilsack says 1.7M acres enrolled in CRP this year

AMES, Iowa (AP) -- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday the federal government will accept 1.7 million acres of additional farm land into the Conservation Reserve Program under the general sign-up for the current year.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, made the announcement in Ames, where he spoke at the Iowa Farm Bureau's 2013 Economic Summit. He said the USDA received nearly 28,000 offers on more than 1.9 million acres of land.

CRP is a voluntary program that allows eligible landowners to get annual rental payments over 10 to 15 years and receive cost-share assistance to plant grasses and trees in fields and along streams or rivers. The plantings prevent soil and nutrients from washing into waterways, reducing soil erosion that could otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality. The program also provides habitat for wildlife.

The USDA said it pays landowners about $2 billion a year for the program.

"As the commodities produced by our farmers and ranchers continue to perform strongly in the marketplace — supporting one out of every 12 jobs here in the United States — it is no surprise that American producers continue to recognize the importance of protecting our nation's most environmentally sensitive land by enrolling in CRP," Vilsack said in a statement.

The USDA has more than 26.9 million acres enrolled nationally. That's down from a high of more than 36 million acres in 2007.

The decline is partially due to the increased value of corn and soybeans. In many instances it's more lucrative for landowners to rent out land for crops than to collect the CRP payment.