WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About $1.6 billion in funds are on their way to landowners and producers enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. The payments earned for fiscal year 2003 were released Oct. 2 by USDA, and should be making their way to producers' mailboxes this week.

Among the largest recipients of the USDA funds are Texas and Missouri producers, with $142.4 million being split between about 24,000 program contracts in Texas, and $102.4 million expected to be divided between 31,538 contracts in Missouri.

In the Mid-South, USDA is paying landowners and producers enrolled in the program $13.7 million in Tennessee, $36.2 million in Mississippi, $9 million in Louisiana, and $7.8 million in Arkansas.

Southeast growers and landowners participating in the Conservation Reserve Program should receive checks for $21.6 million in Alabama, $12.1 in Georgia, $7.6 in South Carolina, $6.6 million in North Carolina, and $2.9 million in Virginia.

Heading west, program participants in California will share $4.3 million, while Oklahoma producers will split $33.1 million, and one landowner in Arizona will collect $295.

Nationwide, 619,493 Conservation Reserve Program contracts on 373,033 farms will receive an average of $4,354 per farm, or $47.62 per acre. The number of contracts is higher than the number of farms because producers may have multiple contracts on a single farm.

Those Conservation Reserve Program contracts for the 2 million acres of land enrolled under the most recent general sign-up for the program, held from May 5 to June 13, 2003, are not included in the Oct. 2 mail-out. Rental payments for these contracts will be issued in October 2004.

"These timely CRP payments reflect the Bush administration's continued commitment to assisting agricultural producers with their stewardship of soil, water and air," says Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

Under the Conservation Reserve Program, producers voluntarily retire environmentally sensitive cropland for 10 to 15 years. Enrolled land must either be highly erodible, contribute to a serious water quality problem, provide important wildlife habitat or provide substantial environmental benefits if devoted to certain specific conservation uses.

Other CRP payments, including reimbursement of 50 percent of expenses for establishing cover and incentive payments for enrolling conservation practices are made throughout the year. In fiscal year 2003, these payments are anticipated to be $110 million for cover cost reimbursements, and $110 million for incentive payments, USDA says.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com