Enrollment for general CRP in 2021 is currently open until February 14th, which means there’s still time to enroll. To enter general CRP, interested parties need to submit a bid. This bid is then scored and ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI).
The EBI is a ranking system used to determine how environmentally beneficial a general CRP submission is. During the bidding process, your score is compared against other submissions in your state to determine who earns a CRP contract. That means that if you want to join the program, you’ll need to score as high as possible on the EBI.
For those new to CRP, navigating the EBI can be a little confusing.
Below is a general overview that should give you a better understanding of how EBI scoring works and what you can do to improve your overall score.
Breaking Down the Environmental Benefits Index
EBI relies on six primary factors. Within these are subfactors that contribute to your final score.
N1 – Wildlife Benefits: 10 – 100 Points
First, benefits to wildlife and wildlife habitat are examined. The Wildlife Benefits portion of EBI is split into three subsections: Wildlife Habitat Cover Benefits, Wildlife Enhancement, and Wildlife Priority Zones.
Wildlife Habitat Cover Benefits is the most critical factor in terms of overall wildlife benefits, as it offers the most possible points. The more beneficial the land will be for providing wildlife cover and habitat, the higher the score is. Seed mixes with diverse species are likely to score the highest (more on that in a moment).
N2 – Water Quality Benefits from Reduced Erosion, Runoff, and Leaching: 0-100 Points
Reducing runoff and water pollution is a primary goal of CRP. This factor evaluates bids according to how much they benefit both surface and ground water. Benefits to each respective source are scored separately, with surface water quality having a higher available point total.
Location is an important factor here as well. States have water quality zones that are identified for protection. At least 51% of acres offered must fall within an approved zone to receive the maximum points in this area.
N3 – Erosion Reduction: 0 – 100 Points
Erosion is a serious problem for farmland and the surrounding ecosystem, stripping away precious topsoil while polluting local water supplies. N3 evaluates lands potential for both wind and water erosion using an Erodibility Index (EI). The more susceptible land is to erosion, the higher it will likely rank.
N4 – Enduring Benefits: 0 – 50 Points
The goal of CRP is not to provide short term solutions but to make long term changes. Contracts typically last 10-15 years. N4 evaluates whether the land will remain as a natural habitat after the contract ends or if it will return to active crop production.
N5 – Air Quality Benefits from Reduced Wind Erosion: 3 – 45 Points
Factor N5 takes a different approach to evaluating wind erosion. It considers how much local populations are impacted by wind erosion, evaluating wind speed, wind direction, duration of wind events, and general soil erodibility.
Additionally, this factor has points for the value of CRP land that provides carbon sequestration.
N6 – Cost
CRP provides contract holders with market-based monthly rental payments. This EBI factor measures the overall environmental benefits in comparison to the monthly payment cost. This can create a paradox for applicants. Lower per-acre rental rates can increase your score. However, this will also lower the monthly amount you receive for CRP.
Improving Your Overall Score
As you can see, determining EBI scores can get pretty complex. Thankfully, there are a few general decisions you can take that have a profound impact on your overall score. The most important decision is choosing a conservation practice (CP). Your CP will determine the type of vegetation you will be required to establish, which factors heavily into N1 and N2.
It’s important to select a CP that makes sense for land and your overall goals, while also ensuring it provides an adequate point value. It’s also critical that you pair your CP choice with the right CRP seed mix. While your CP determines the types of vegetation you will be establishing, it doesn’t mandate exactly what you will plant.
The more diverse your seed mix is, the more points you can expect to earn.
For example, if you enroll in CP2 – Permanent Native Grasses, you’ll be establishing native grass and forb seed. By selecting a minimum of 5 native species including at least 3 native grasses and at least 1 shrub, forb, or legume, you can maximize your points earned under the wildlife habitat benefits portion of EBI.
Though joining CRP offers numerous benefits to both farmers and the environment as whole, we understand that it can be frustrating to navigate. That’s why our parent company FDCE offers full-service CRP solutions for farmers and landowners. In addition to purchasing seed mixes, planting seed, applying herbicide, and submitting reporting for cost-share reimbursement, FDCE can help with the initial enrollment process.
Our team can work with you to help determine what CP is best for you, and what seed mixes will provide the best score and the best results. Alternatively, we can help you explore other options such as Continuous CRP or CREP. To learn what FDCE can do for you, visit their website here.