Thousands of farmers have made the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) one of Virginia's most active water quality efforts. The program aims to improve Virginia's water quality and wildlife habitat by offering financial incentives, cost-share and rental payments to farmers who voluntarily restore riparian forest buffers, grass and shrub buffers, and wetlands using CREP-approved nonpoint source best management practices (BMPs). Practice details can be found in the Virginia Agricultural BMP Manual. CREP is an enhancement to the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which was established in 1985 and has enrolled more than 39 million acres nationwide. With an initial budget of $91 million in federal and state funds, this is Virginia's most well funded conservation program ever. CREP applications are accepted at Farm Service Centers within CREP eligible areas. Click here to find your local Farm Service Center.
Virginia CREP is divided into two regions. The Chesapeake Bay CREP targets Virginia's entire bay watershed and calls for the planting of 27,000 acres of riparian buffers and 3,000 acres of wetland restoration. The Southern Rivers CREP targets watersheds outside the bay drainage basin and will establish 13,500 acres of riparian buffers and 1,500 acres of wetland restoration.
Click here for a map delineating eligible NWBD hydrologic units.
Statewide, these programs are expected to reduce annual nitrogen loads to waterways by more than 710,000 pounds, phosphorus by more than 114,000 pounds and sediment by more than 62,000 tons. The anticipated reductions will help Virginia meet water quality improvement goals, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay drainage basin, in which the state has agreed to reduce nutrient loads by 40 percent.
How the practices work: The program's rental and cost-share payments will help farmers restore riparian forest buffers, grass and shrub buffers and wetlands. All CREP-enrolled pasture or cropland will be planted to hardwood trees, native warm season grasses, or approved shrubs and grasses.
The program funds restoration of wetlands, forested riparian buffers up to 300 feet wide and cropland buffers up to 100 feet wide.
A 100-foot wide strip of forest and grass can reduce sediment by 97 percent, nitrogen by 80 percent and phosphorus by 77 percent. The Southern Rivers CREP, in particular, provides for critical habitat for the bobwhite quail, whose population declined 62 percent between 1970 and 1991.
Incentives: State cost-share payments are administered through local soil and water conservation district (SWCD) offices. The state will reimburse up to 50 percent of restored buffer or wetland, of conservation practice costs deemed eligible by your Farm Service office. There's also a 25 percent state income tax credit for out-of-pocket expenses, thus further reducing the landowner's cost. Federal reimbursement is made through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) for up to 50 percent of a participant's eligible expenses for implementing best management practices (BMP), such as fencing or alternative watering systems.
Payments: There are four categories available to those qualified:
Contact your local FSA office (click here for a map depicting FSA offices) or call 1-877-42-WATER for the location of the nearest Farm Service Center to determine the rental rate for your potential CREP acres.
The application process: First the landowner visits the nearest Farm Service Center to initiate CREP application process. If FSA determines that the land is eligible, a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist visits the site with the landowner to determine and design appropriate conservation practices. FSA measures the CREP acreage, and CREP farm conservation plans and contracts are written, approved and signed. After that, once the SWCD application is completed, the landowner is eligible for all CREP payments.
Once the landowner finishes installing the BMP and it is certified, the landowner submits bills for cost-share to FSA. FSA and the local SWCD make the cost-share payments. The SWCD also pays out the state's one-time, lump sum rental payment. FSA conducts random spot checks throughout the life of the contract and continues to pay annual rent throughout the contract period.
Private funding: Another unique feature of the Chesapeake Bay CREP is that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Ducks Unlimited (DU) initially contributed more than $1.5 million, which were used to provide an additional 25 percent cost-share payment to landowners who restored wetland or installed a buffer at least 100 feet wide within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Partners: Development of this program required a unique conservation partnership of state, local and federal agencies and private conservation groups. They are:
Please send questions about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to firstname.lastname@example.org.