Conservation Reserve Program

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) began in 1985 as part of the Food Security Act.  It is a voluntary program that provides the opportunity for agricultural producers to contract their land into conservation protection for a specified time and at a compensation rate that is fixed for the period of the contract at the time of enrollment. This takes environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production, and those participating in the program are required to maintain certain vegetative species which are beneficial to the specific location. These species are mainly various native trees and grasses approved for long term growth in that area which help control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitats. There are two categories for CRP contracts: general and continuous.

General CRP

General sign up has a competitive bidding process that is not announced on any set schedule but contracts begin October 1 of each year (and end September 30, the land is ranked based on the environmental benefits and costs. Contracts are awarded based on rank of the land being considered in the bidding process. General CRP contracts run 10-15 years.

Continuous CRP

Continuous CRP offers signup opportunity throughout the year. There is not a bidding process for Continuous CRP. Acres are approved based on if they meet the eligibility criteria. These criteria include: wetland restoration, wildlife habitat buffers, wetland buffers, filter strips, riparian buffers and many others. (list of others found here.) Continuous CRP contracts are also 10-15 years in duration.

History of General and Continuous CRP Enrollment

General CRP started before continuous and has accounted for most of the acres since the onset of the program in 1985. Continuous CRP contracts were initiated in 2000 and, over time, continuous CRP has steadily increased in total acres and in its share of CRP acres. These trends are observed in Figure 1.


Historical data on trends in CRP enrollment and a general historical overview of CRP and the types of CRP available show shifts in the CRP program that have occurred since its inception in the 1985 Farm Bill.  In recent years, much of the focus of CRP enrollment has shifted to Continuous CRP, which is significantly more targeted to highly sensitive lands and the addressing of specific water quality, soil erosion and wildlife habitat concerns. 

Preston Lyman is a Research Analyst with Decision Innovation Solutions (DIS). DIS is an Iowa-Based economic research firm which provides regular farm economics research and analysis to the Iowa Farm Bureau staff and members.