FSA and NRCS have several conservation programs available to farmers and ranchers that provide incentives to encourage wildlife habitat. Among these programs is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a voluntary program for agricultural landowners, offering wildlife and environmental benefits. Generally, offers for CRP contracts are competitively ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). Environmental and cost data are collected for each of the EBI factors, including:
-- Wildlife habitat benefits resulting from covers on contract acreage;
-- Water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff, and leaching;
-- On-farm benefits of reduced erosion;
-- Likely long-term benefits of reduced erosion;
-- Air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion;
-- Benefits of enrollment in conservation priority areas where enrollment would contribute to the improvement of identified adverse water quality, wildlife habitat, or air quality; and
Under the CRP, producers receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible cropland and marginal pastureland that improves soil, water and wildlife resources. To be eligible to be enrolled in the CRP, cropland must also have been planted or considered planted to an agricultural commodity two of the five most recent crop years.
Conservation Reserve Program Continuous signups provide management flexibility to farmers and ranchers to implement certain high-priority conservation practices on eligible land. To encourage these high-priority practices, continuous signup participants do not go through the normal bidding process and can enroll noncompetitively. One practice that offers significant wildlife benefits for farmers and ranchers is the riparian buffer practice. The land can be marginal pasture which is devoted to trees either planted or naturally regenerated. This provides cover for waterfowl and fish, along with other wildlife species.
A second wildlife enhancement practice is to develop or restore shallow water areas that provide a source of water for wildlife for the majority of the year. Other eligible acreage devoted to certain special conservation practices, such as filter strips, grassed waterways, shelter belts, living snow fences, contour grass strips, and salt tolerant vegetation may be enrolled at any time under the CRP continuous signup and is not subject to competitive bidding.
To be eligible under continuous signup, land must first meet the basic CRP eligibility requirements. In addition to the applicable CRP rental rates, payments up to 50 percent of the eligible cost of establishing a permanent cover are provided to producers as cost- shares.
Up to $350 million is available for additional incentives through FY 2002 to encourage producers to participate in the CRP continuous signup, including:
-- An up-front CRP Signing Incentive Payment (CAP-SIP) of $100 to $150 per acre.
-- A Practice Incentive Payment (PIP) paid as a one-time rental payment, equal to 40 percent of the eligible installation costs to eligible participants enrolling certain practices, in addition to the standard fifty percent CRP cost-share rate.
-- New rental rates that have been established for certain marginal pastureland to better reflect the value of such lands to farmers and ranchers.
Through mid-January 2001, over 1.4 million acres nationally have been enrolled under continuous signup practices. With these incentives, enrollment of filterstrips has increased over 600 percent compared to the historic program (signups 1-13)
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is used in many States as a vehicle for conservation cooperation. The two primary objectives of CREP are to coordinate Federal and non-Federal resources to address specific conservation objectives of a State and the nation in a cost-effective manner, and to improve wildlife habitat, water quality, and erosion control related to agricultural use in specific geographic areas.
These unique State and Federal partnerships allow producers to receive incentive payments for installing specific conservation practices. Through the CREP, farmers can receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible land. Like continuous signup, CREP participants can enroll noncompetitively and receive the signing and Practice Incentive Payments.
Under CREP, Non-Federal partners provide a significant commitment, such as 20 percent, toward the overall cost of the program.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is carried out by NRCS. EQIP provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. The program provides assistance to farmers and ranchers in complying with Federal, State, and tribal environmental laws, and encourages environmental enhancement.
The purposes of EQIP are intended to be achieved through the implementation of a conservation plan which include structural, vegetative, and land management practices on eligible land. Five- to ten-year contracts are made with eligible producers. Cost-share payments may be made to implement one or more eligible structural or vegetative practices, such as animal waste management facilities, terraces, filter strips, tree planting, and permanent wildlife habitat. Incentive payments can be made to implement one or more land management practices, such as nutrient management, pest management, and grazing land management. By law, nationally, fifty percent of the funding available for the program is targeted at natural resource concerns relating to livestock production.
The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) is another Federal wildlife conservation program administered by NRCS. WHIP is a voluntary program that provides cost- sharing of up to 75 percent for landowners to apply a variety of wildlife practices to develop habitat that will support upland wildlife, wetland wildlife, threatened and endangered species, fisheries, and other types of wildlife. The purpose of the program is to create high quality wildlife habitats that support wildlife populations of local, State and national significance.
Although these conservation programs are available, it is often a difficult decision for the producer on whether to participate. As energy, fertilizer, and transportation costs continue to escalate, it often puts the farmers and ranchers in the position of choosing between production-based practices to pay the bills and the conservation practices they wish to carry out.
Nevada's producer participation in CRP and the CRP continuous signup is limited, due to a variety of factors. One factor is the rental rate assigned to Nevada. Rental rates are based on the dryland agricultural value because ongoing irrigation is not required as a condition of enrollment. The dry land rate for enrolled land in Nevada is about $ 17 per acre. Consistent with the statutory obligation prohibiting haying or grazing, a producer is required to keep cattle off the CRP land. Therefore, if a producer or a neighbor has cattle, it would be necessary to fence the CRP acreage.
Along with wildlife enhancement benefits, one of the purposes of CRP is to retire cropland in order to control erosion and improve water quality. Because much of Nevada's land base does not have a cropping history, due to its permanent grass cover or recently being put into production, it is basically ineligible to be enrolled in the CRP.
In Nevada, there are more EQIP requests for participation than available funding. For example, in 2000 there were 57 applications for a total of $1,207,197 and, with the $992,478 allocation, 43 projects were funded. The 2001 cycle is similar, in that 85 applications totaling $ 1,769,873 have been received but, with $ 1,151,300 allocated, a minimum of 44 projects will be funded.
Ultimately, participation in conservation programs benefits all of us, for even as we recognize our farmers and ranchers as the original conservationists, we each have a responsibility in preserving our land and natural resources for the following generations.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you or the committee may have.