(first printed in the April 2011 Equiery)

For those planning to improve their farms, there are many enticing federal and state cost-share programs that will enable you to improve your land, improve some of the structures on your land, reduce your negative impact on the enviroment, and provide you with the cash to do all of the above. Whether or not one agrees with these taxpayer-funded initiatives is irrelevant for the purposes of this article, as the point is that your tax dollars are funding these cost-share programs, and if you have horses on your property, you might be eligible.

None of these programs are “free money,” mind you. They all come with conditions. You have to agree to install and maintain something on your property that will meet the overall program goals of improving the watershed. Generally, the requirements are not onerous (although filling out the forms may be tedious).

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a Federal-state conservation partnership that pays landowners attractive land rental rates to voluntarily take environmentally sensitive crop and pastureland out of production for 10 to 15 years and plant streamside buffers, protect highly erodible land or establish wetlands to protect the water quality and wildlife habitat of local streams.

CREP was redesigned in 2009 to help landowners make the most of marginal cropland and pastureland by simplifying program requirements, increasing land rental rates, and offering a one-time signing bonus of up to $200 an acre. In addition, the new CREP offers up to an 87.5 percent cost-share, a one-time incentive payment worth 40 percent of the total cost of installing certain practices, maintenance payments and a permanent easement option. For landowners with expiring CREP or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, the new program offers easy re-enrollment at attractive rates and a $100-per-acre state signing bonus.

Sign-up for CREP is ongoing until acreage goals are met. Interested farmers should contact their Soil Conservation District or Farm Service Agency to apply.

What is the difference between CREP and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)?
CREP is an option under CRP that focuses on placing conservation practices on environmentally sensitive cropland and pastureland. CREP generally provides landowners with higher annual land rental rates and added incentive payments. The same parcel of land may not be enrolled in CREP and CRP at the same time; however, CRP participants with expiring contracts may be eligible to enroll their existing practices in CREP.

Who is eligible for CREP?
For horse owners, marginal pastureland next to a stream may also be eligible for certain practices. Participants must have either owned or operated the farm or ranch for 12 months prior to enrollment.

What conservation practices are eligible for CREP?

Farm operators can earn extra farm income by taking environmentally sensitive farmland out of production for 10 to 15 years and planting forested streamside buffers, grassed streamside buffers or conservation cover. Farm operators may also earn extra income by protecting highly erodible land, promoting certain wildlife species, or establishing wetlands to safeguard local streams.

What are the enrollment period options?

Highly erodible land and shallow water practices have contract lengths of 10 years. For all other practices, the participant has the option of choosing contract lengths ranging from 10 to 15 years.

When will the contract begin?

Contracts begin the first day of the month following the Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee’s approval of the contract. Applicants may defer the contract start date for up to six months.

Are CREP contracts transferrable?

Contracts are transferrable if the land is sold or inherited and the new owner agrees to the terms of the contract.

What types of payments will I receive?
Five types of payments may be available depending on the practice installed. These include: signing bonus, annual rental payment, cost-share assistance, practice incentive payment, maintenance payment.

All payments, including cost-share, are considered income. Participants should consult their tax adviser on reporting requirements.

May I hay or graze my CREP land?

Haying or grazing is not permitted on most CREP land. Managed or emergency haying and grazing may be performed with prior authorization on lands that are enrolled because they are considered highly erodible. Specific restrictions apply and the participant must accept a reduction in the annual rental payment.

Can marginal pastureland practices be used adjacent to ditches or channelized streams?

Marginal pastureland practices must be immediately adjacent and parallel to a perennial stream, nonchannelized seasonal stream, or permanent water body, including certain wetlands. Check with the soil conservation district or FSA for specific requirements.

What are the buffer widths along channelized streams and ditches? What conservation practices are cost-shared?
Filter strips along channelized intermittent streams and ditches must be 35 feet wide. Channelized perennial streams are eligible for the full suite of practices and buffer widths.

May I extend my riparian buffer up to the 250-foot maximum for additional wildlife benefits?
Yes. You may be eligible to extend the buffer by installing practices that meet an approved wildlife establishment and management plan for a specific group of at-risk species approved for CREP (riparian species or shrubland birds and pollinators).

Is it possible to have a CREP contract and a CREP easement at the same time?

Yes. In fact, you must be enrolled in CREP before you can sell or donate a CREP easement. See the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ brochure on CREP easements or visit conservemd.org.

How do I enroll in CREP?

Sign-up for Maryland CREP is ongoing until acreage goals are met. Contact the local Soil Conservation District or county Farm Service Agency to enroll in the program. Additional information on CREP is available on FSA’s website: www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=copr&topic=cep.

• Attractive, steady rental income
• One-time signing bonus of up to $200 an acre
• Up to 87.5% cost-share for most practices
• One-time incentive payment worth 40% of the total cost of installing certain practices
• Maintenance payments
• Easy re-enrollment of expiring contracts at new incentive rates
• Permanent easement optionPlus
• Cleaner, healthier waterways
• Erosion and flood control
• Healthier conditions for livestock
• Habitat for wildlife, fish and game