USDA expands working-lands opportunities
Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer a new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands practice specifically tailored for small-scale livestock grazing operations. Small livestock operations with 100 or fewer head of grazing dairy cows (or the equivalent) can submit applications to enroll up to 200 acres of grasslands per farm. USDA’s goal is to enroll up to 200,000 acres.
“For 30 years, lands in the Conservation Reserve Program have contributed to soil and water protection and wildlife and pollinator habitat, while playing a significant role in mitigating climate change,” said Taylor. “CRP Grasslands recognizes the conservation value of well-managed, working grazing lands and pasture lands. This new opportunity for small livestock operations, like the dairy farms or small beef farms common in Pennsylvania, will help ensure that livestock operations of varying scales and across the country have an opportunity to achieve environmental and economic benefits. Small livestock operations are encouraged to contact their local Farm Service Agency office to learn more about this program.”
Taylor also announced that the current CRP Grassland ranking period will end on Nov. 10, 2016. To date, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has received nearly 5,000 offers covering over 1 million acres for this CRP working-lands conservation program. These offers are predominantly larger acreage ranchland in Western states.
The new practice for small-scale livestock grazers aims, in part, to encourage greater diversity geographically and in types of livestock operation. This opportunity will close on Dec. 16, 2016. Offers selected this fiscal year will be enrolled into CRP Grasslands beginning Oct. 1, 2017.
Participants in CRP Grasslands establish or maintain long-term, resource-conserving grasses and other plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands. CRP Grasslands participants can use the land for livestock production (e.g. grazing or producing hay), while following their conservation and grazing plans in order to maintain the cover. A goal of CRP Grasslands is to minimize conversion of grasslands either to row crops or to non-agricultural uses. Participants can receive annual payments of up to 75 percent of the grazing value of the land and up to 50 percent to fund cover or practices like cross-fencing to support rotational grazing or improving pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife.
USDA will select offers for enrollment based on six ranking factors: (1) current and future use, (2) new farmer/rancher or underserved producer involvement, (3) maximum grassland preservation, (4) vegetative cover, (5) environmental factors and (6) pollinator habitat. Offers for the second ranking period also will be considered from producers who submitted offers for the first ranking period but were not accepted, as well as from new offers submitted through Dec. 16.
“Adding a working-lands conservation program to the toolbox is an exciting opportunity for the future of CRP,” said Taylor. “There also are ways that CRP Grasslands could be combined with other traditional CRP conservation practices, such as riparian buffers on the same farm, to create a package that can help keep small livestock operations in production. An example of such a package would be to dedicate the most sensitive land to conservation, while still maintaining the bulk of the area as working grasslands for livestock. USDA would provide cost-share assistance to help farmers install fencing and provide alternative water sources to livestock, as well as annual CRP payments to help the farm’s bottom-line.
In May, FSA accepted 101,000 acres in the grasslands program, with more than 70 percent of the acres having diverse native grasslands under threat of conversion, and more than 97 percent of the acres having a new, veteran or underserved farmer or rancher as a primary producer.
Small livestock operations or other farming and ranching operations interested in participating in CRP Grasslands should contact their local FSA office. To find your local FSA office, visit http://offices.usda.gov. To learn more about FSA’s conservation programs, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation.