Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says farmers and ranchers can re-enroll or extend their Conservation Reserve Program contracts expiring in 2007 through 2010.

Nearly 36 million acres of land nationwide are enrolled in the popular Conservation Reserve Program, which has paid farmers since the 1980s to keep fragile land out of production.

The program is credited with producing huge increases in habitat for pheasants, ducks and other wildlife, but critics say it has hurt rural communities where farming had fueled the economy.

Contracts on most of the land will expire during the next several years, and USDA says that only 20 percent of that land will be enrolled for new 10- to 15-year contracts. Owners of the rest of the conservation program's acreage will be offered extensions of two to five years, depending on the environmental value of the land.

That means that 3.2 million acres of the 16 million acres due to come out of the program in 2007 will be eligible for long-term contracts. Contracts for 520,000 acres of land in Iowa, one-quarter of the state's program acreage, expire in 2007. USDA officials aren’t sure how much of that land will be offered long-term contracts.

Under the new policy, long-term contracts will be offered only for land that ranks in the top 20 percent in terms of environmental benefits, which includes providing wildlife habitat, improving water quality and preventing erosion.

A list of CRP acres by state with contracts expiring in 2007-2010 can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm

For more information on the CRP program, contact your local FSA office or visit the FSA Web site at http://www.fsa.usda.gov.

USDA, Des Moines Register