Agriculture software to better manage conservation lands

The Agriculture Department announced software enhancements to improve Farm Service Agency administration of its conservation reserve program.

FSA has developed Web-based software that will more efficiently rank offers based on environmental benefits and cost, calculate maximum payment rates and provide eligibility determinations.

The 2002 farm bill expanded the eligible acreage allowed for conservation programs, extended the farmable wetlands program nationwide and permitted managed haying and grazing on the conservation program land. Final rules for the farm bill expansions were published in Friday’s Federal Register.

The software incorporates several databases, including soils, Conservation Priority Areas and watersheds, to allow for more precise eligibility, financial and other determinations in a timely fashion. These enhancements will speed the offer process and require less FSA processing time, resulting in program cost savings.

FSA also has developed a CRP Geographic Information System tool to be used by county offices to calculate acreage and the maximum soil rental rate for land being offered. FSA has been working to transform all of its farmland maps to a digital or GIS format. This conversion allows for more accurate acreage calculations and for a more precise mapping of soil types. The GIS tool will also reduce the manual tracking and calculations done in the county offices and result in more efficient program administration.

The Conservation Reserve Program allows agricultural landowners to receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland. The Commodity Credit Corp. pays annual rental payments based on the agriculture rental value of the land and provides cost-share assistance for up to 50 percent of the participant’s costs in establishing approved conservation practices. Participants enroll in conservation contracts for 10 to 15 years.

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