The USDA will conduct a four-week Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general signup, beginning on March 12 and ending on April 6.

CRP is a voluntary program available to agricultural producers to help them use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. Producers enrolled in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion and develop wildlife habitat.

In return, USDA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years. Producers with expiring contracts and producers with environmentally sensitive land are encouraged to evaluate their options under CRP.

Producers also are encouraged to look into CRP's other enrollment opportunities offered on a continuous, non-competitive, signup basis.

Currently, about 30 million acres are enrolled in CRP; and contracts on an estimated 6.5 million acres will expire on Sept. 30, 2012.

Offers for CRP contracts are ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) collects data for each of the EBI factors based on the relative environmental benefits for the land offered. Each eligible offer is ranked in comparison to all other offers and selections made from that ranking. FSA uses the following EBI factors to assess the environmental benefits for the land offered:

• Wildlife habitat benefits resulting from covers on contract acreage;
• Water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff and leaching;
• On-farm benefits from reduced erosion;
• Benefits that will likely endure beyond the contract period;
• Air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion; and,
• Cost

For more information on CRP and other FSA programs, visit a local FSA service center or