The state of Pennsylvania has entered into a $210 million, 15 year partnership with the US Department of Agriculture – known as the Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) – in order to improve the water quality and wildlife habitat of the Chesapeake Bay. The Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman, has also announced that farmers can receive more money for signing up to the Bay’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

The CREP is a voluntary programme that will pay farmers to plant trees, establish grass-filter strips and forest buffers on the Bay’s shores on highly environmentally-sensitive land.

The programme is designed to address erosion-prone land located near the banks of streams and rivers that run into the Chesapeake Bay. Land along these streams and rivers will be planted with trees and grass. The vegetation is intended to filter sediment and nutrients from run-off water, improve water quality and provide shelter, and food for wildlife.

USDA is expected to pay up to $129 million of the total cost of enrolling the maximum 100,000 acres (40,500 ha) in the programme, with Pennsylvania contributing the balance. Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware have already entered into CREP agreements with USDA to help preserve the Chesapeake Bay.

Glickman also announced that landowners can receive more money for participation in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)’s continuous sign-up scheme.

Unlike the regular CRP, the continuous sign-up scheme allows landowners to enrol highly environmentally sensitive land at any time, without waiting for a sign-up period or competing against other offers.

The new financial incentives – totalling up to $350 million in the next three years – include bonuses for signing and additional money for implementing and maintaining conservation practices.

“Higher payments should persuade more landowners to participate, protecting environmentally-sensitive land along streams, rivers, wetlands and public water supplies,” Glickman said. “In difficult economic times for farm country, this additional $350 million will mean more cash in farmer’s pockets.”

The continuous sign-up improvements, part of the Government’s plan to strengthen the farm safely net (see related story), consist of additional economic incentives and up-dated rates including a bonus for signing up with the programme of $10 per acre for every year the contract covers. The payments are intended to help defray installation costs for filter strips, riparian buffers, grassed waterways, field windbreaks, shelter belts and living snow fences.

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