The USDA is enrolling another 1.7 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, including just over 47,000 acres in Iowa.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says about 12-million acres has been enrolled in the program since he took over as ag secretary in 2009.

“I think it’s important when we make these announcements not so much to focus on the number of acres that are being signed up, but the impact and effect of those acres and the fact that we focus this program on highly-erodible land — the kind of land that ought not to be farmed aggressively,” Vilsack says. “And because of that we’re beginning to address a serious issue here in this country and that is of soil erosion.”

The Conservation Reserve Program, commonly called “The CRP” by farmers, was created 27 years ago to pay farmers to take land out of production and do things like plant trees and sow native grasses on the land.

“CRP is allowing us to avoid about 300 tons of soil erosion annually and that means that we’re not putting as much nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways which is also an extraordinarily important issue,” Vilsack says. “To be specific about this, this program prevents about 605 pounds of nitrogen from getting into our water supply and having to be treated and so forth and about 121 million pounds of phosphorus.”

About 1.4 million acres of Iowa farmland is currently idle because of the Conservation Reserve Program. Eighty-six percent of the applications that were submitted to enroll more Iowa ground in the CRP were approved this week, covering about 47,300 acres of land in the state. Landowners who sign the CRP contracts receive annual rental payments from the federal government over a period of 10 or 15 years.