BROOKINGS — The Conservation Reserve Program continues to improve and is now more practical for working ranches, land health and wildlife than ever. Grazing, haying and other management actions are allowed within the context of an overall plan and will recycle nutrients, stimulate plant growth, improve soil health and open the stand so that young wildlife can move and forage.
General CRP enrollment for grazing, hay and habitat is scheduled Jan. 4 through Feb. 12, with Grassland CRP sign-up following in March.
Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist encourages producers to take advantage of the contract period to explore long term grazing and wildlife habitat options.
“Establishing infrastructure such as fence and water during the CRP contract period can help transition poor or moderate cropland or poorly management pasture back to functional, profitable and regenerative grassland for long term use and overall benefit to livestock soils, water and wildlife,” Bauman says.
CRP management plans are cooperatively designed by the landowner and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service staff or by Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists stationed at NRCS offices. These individuals can help landowners assess the situation and will work to identify which CRP programs might best fit that operation.
Applicants often receive additional points to increase their chance of being accepted if they consider one or more factors including offering their most erodible cropland, including diverse native species, or agreeing to a reduced annual rental rate. Additional opportunities often target non-operating landowners, socially underrepresented landowners and beginning operators.
Continuous programs tend to have more specific focus (such as duck habitat or waterway protection), and often have a few more considerations in the management plan. However, continuous programs also have higher rental rates and additional incentives (i.e. payment to landowner) than do the general programs.
Most CRP programs offer contract options for 10 or 15 years and require the land has a proven cropping history, but there are some exceptions. Grassland CRP targets existing native or planted grass that may not have a cropping history. Under Grassland CRP, the landowner receives a rental payment and can still graze or lease the pasture or grassland if they choose. An NRCS approved grazing plan is still required. The next signup period for Grassland CRP runs from March 15 through April 23.
Bauman also suggests producers seek out help in evaluating their property and which program might fit best in relation to their goals and objectives.
“There are many options for assistance in long-term planning for grasslands, including SDSU Extension Range Management Field Specialists, South Dakota Game Fish and Parks private lands staff, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program staff, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists and NRCS Rangeland Management and Soils staff,” Bauman says. “Reach out to any of these organizations for guidance on establishing and maintaining healthy grasslands.”
Finally, Bauman says the South Dakota Grassland and Soil Health Coalitions coordinate education and training for grassland management in cooperation with the agencies listed above. He suggests attending future grassland workshops, grazing and soils schools, and pasture walks as part of a grassland transition plan.
For information on all CRP programs, contact your local USDA service center and ask to speak with the Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist or NRCS conservationist for your area.