Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program


2009 CREP Brochure


In Maryland, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) offers additional incentives to encourage landowners to implement practices that will help reduce sediment and nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay and will improve wildlife habitat. CREP is seeking to enroll 16,000 acres of highly erodible cropland into grass, shrubs, and/or tree plantings, establish 77,000 acres of riparian buffer habitat, provide 5,000 acres of water and wetland habitat, and restore 2,000 acres of habitat for declining species. CREP is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). MDA, along with assistance from NRCS, provides technical assistance to help landowners plan and implement CREP practices.

What Lands are Eligible for Enrollment in CREP?

Like CRP, landowners must own land for at least one year before they can enroll it in CREP. Enrollment is on a continuous basis, allowing landowners to join the program at any time rather than waiting for specific sign-up periods. Eligible lands include the following:

  • Cropland that is on highly erodible soil (Erodibility Index of 16 or more) within 1,000 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream, wetland, or other qualifying waterbody, and is suitable for planting grasses, shrubs, and/or trees;

  • Cropland or marginal pasture that is adjacent to a perennial or intermittent stream, wetland, or other qualifying waterbody, and is suitable for establishing buffer practices (filter strips, forest buffers, wildlife buffers, or wetland buffers);

  • Cropland that is suitable for restoration of wetlands or creation of shallow water habitats;

  • Cropland that is suitable for habitat restoration to benefit declining species of plants or animals.

Eligible cropland must have the required "cropping history," which means that it was planted or considered planted to an agricultural commodity crop during 4 of the 6 crop years, 1996 to 2001, and is still physically and legally capable of being planted in a normal manner.

Marginal pasture is land that is not cropland or forestland and is not currently functioning as a riparian forest buffer.

Lands that have heavy infestations of invasive weeds and/or have poor access for treatment are not eligible for enrollment in CREP. As a general guideline, "heavy infestation" means that more than 20% of a site is covered with invasive plants, including noxious weeds. Lands with light infestations of invasive plants may be enrolled in CREP if a qualified weed control specialist determines that weed control can be successfully accomplished within 12 months of enrollment.

What Are Some of the Financial Benefits Available in CREP?

FSA provides an annual land rental payment, plus cost-share of up to 50 percent of the eligible costs to plant grasses, shrubs, and/or trees on highly erodible cropland, establish vegetated buffers along streams, restore wetlands, provide shallow water areas for wildlife, and restore habitat for rare and declining species. FSA also provides an annual CREP incentive payment of:

  • $200 per acre for the first 50 feet of a riparian forest buffer;

  • $150 per acre for the first 50 feet of grass buffers;

  • $50 per acre for restoring wetlands and declining species habitat, providing shallow water areas, and establishing permanent vegetation on highly erodible cropland.

Additional incentives and one-time payments may also be available for some practices.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), through the MACS program, offers additional cost-share (up to 37.5 percent of eligible costs) for practices that will provide significant benefits for water quality.

Are There Specific Planting and Maintenance Requirements?

NRCS and cooperating agencies provide technical assistance to help landowners evaluate their land and determine which CREP practices will meet their needs. Land enrolled in CREP must be planted with herbaceous plants (grasses mixed with forbs and/or legumes) or woody plants (shrubs and/or trees). For each CREP practice, landowners can select one or more plantings from an approved list of grass mixes, shrubs, or trees. Decisions are recorded in a site-specific conservation plan. By signing a CREP contract, landowners agree to install practices according to NRCS practice standards and a time schedule that is included in the conservation plan.

Plantings must be maintained in the approved cover for the life of the CREP contract -- 10 to 15 years. Noxious weeds must be controlled as required by State law. Haying or grazing of most CREP land is prohibited, unless approved in advance by FSA.

Maintenance activities, such as mowing, are usually needed to establish and maintain plantings. To assist with the cost of maintenance, FSA provides maintenance payments ranging from $5 to $10 per acre per year as part of the annual rental payment.

Certain management practices, such as prescribed burning, light strip disking, and overseeding of legumes, may also be required at specified intervals to provide long-term wildlife benefits. FSA provides up to 50 percent cost-share for approved management practices.

As part of a CREP conservation plan, NRCS provides landowners with one or more "job sheets" that explain the maintenance and management requirements for each practice.

How Can Landowners Enroll in CREP?

USDA Service Centeroffices, located in each Maryland county, can provide additional details and program assistance concerning CREP eligibility requirements, practices, and payments.