Question: USDA is offering a new Grasslands Initiative through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It’s geared to benefit smaller livestock grazing operations. I have 75 beef cows; tell me about this new program.
Answer: In early November USDA announced that its Farm Service Agency is making available the new CRP Grasslands Initiative that expands grazing opportunities. The new option for CRP is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. John Whitaker, state executive director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Iowa, provides the following answers to commonly-asked questions.
Deadline to apply for the CRP Grasslands practice is Dec. 16, 2016. You need to contact your local FSA office right away if you are interested in applying. “The CRP Grasslands practice is specifically tailored for small-scale grazing herds,” says Whitaker. “This expansion to the CRP program is a perfect fit for Iowa livestock producers. The 2012 Ag Census, which is the latest available data, shows the average beef herd size in Iowa is 45 head, so a number of Iowa producers can participate.”
Q: What is the CRP Grasslands practice?
A: Most Iowans are familiar with the traditional CRP which is a federally funded voluntary program that contracts with ag producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is protected and used for conservation benefits.
With CRP Grasslands, landowners and operators can protect grassland, including rangeland and pastureland, and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas for grazing. Participants retain the right to graze, produce hay, mow or harvest for seed (subject to certain restrictions during the nesting season of key bird species), conduct fire rehabilitation and construct firebreaks and fences.
Q: For the purpose of the CRP Grasslands practice, what is considered a small-scale livestock operation?
A: 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 nationwide.
Q: What types of grazing operations are eligible for CRP Grasslands practice?
A: Beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats and llamas. Horses are also eligible if they are used as part of the farming operation for breeding purposes and/or used in the operation for the production of livestock.
Q: Are cost-share and land rental payments offered with the CRP Grasslands practice? Is a CRP contract required?
A: Participants in CRP Grasslands receive up to 50% cost-share assistance to establish conservation practices, which can include cross-fencing to support rotational grazing, or improve pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife. Participants also receive annual land rental payments of up to 75% of the grazing value of the land. Contract duration is between 14 and 15 years.
Q: What about the deadline for the program? How do I apply?
A: Interested livestock producers should act fast because this opportunity will close on Dec. 16, 2016. Offers selected this fiscal year will be enrolled into CRP Grasslands beginning Oct. 1, 2017. To apply, contact your local USDA FSA office. To find your nearest FSA office, visit http://offices.usda.gov. To subscribe to FSA’s monthly newsletters for a particular county or program, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/subscribe.
NOTE: Enrollment is now open for USDA’s Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for 2017. Farmers who elect to participate in ARC or PLC may visit FSA county offices through Aug. 1, 2017 to sign contracts and enroll for 2017 crop year. If a farm isn’t enrolled during the 2017 enrollment period, producers on that farm will not be eligible for financial assistance from ARC or PLC for the 2017 crop, should prices or farm revenues fall below the historical price/revenue benchmarks established by the program. Producers who made their elections in 2015 must still enroll during the 2017 enrollment period.
FSA issued more than $7 billion in payments nationwide in October 2016 under ARC-County and PLC programs for 2015 crop to assist enrolled producers who suffered a loss of price or revenue or both. Since shares and ownership of a farm can change year-to-year, producers on the farm must enroll by signing a contract each program year. ARC and PLC were authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and offer a safety net to producers when there’s a substantial drop in prices or revenues for covered commodities.