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Conservation Program Pays Farmers

December 13, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Farmers are offering to idle nearly 9.5 million acres in a federal program that pays them to conserve environmentally fragile land, the Agriculture Department says.

USDA received more than 125,400 offers from farmers, including those seeking to keep out of production 1.4 million acres in Texas, 1.1 million acres in North Dakota and more than 1 million acres in Montana, according to preliminary figures released Friday.

The latest sign-up period for the Conservation Reserve Program ended Nov. 14. Farmers will find out in February how much of the land they offered will be accepted, based on new criteria with more emphasis on environmental protection than in past years.

``I am confident that this will allow the department to continue to enroll acres that provide significant environmental benefits relative to cost,″ Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.

Farmers are paid under CRP to keep land out of production for 10 to 15 years and receive government assistance in planting covers of trees, shrubs and grass. The aim is to reduce wind and water erosion, provide wildlife habitat and improve soil quality.

About 28 million acres now are enrolled in the program, which is capped at 36.4 million acres. About 4.8 million acres are scheduled to leave the program next fall.

More than 7.1 million acres of land were rejected following an earlier sign-up this year, the first under the new environmentally focused rules. USDA tried in this round to provide more information for farmers about how to tailor their bids for the new guidelines.

In addition, officials agreed to place more emphasis on air-quality benefits of reducing wind erosion, which was aimed at getting more Pacific Northwest land into CRP.

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