FAQ: I've heard USDA has a new cost-share program to provide conservation incentives for working grasslands, range and pastureland. What does this program offer? When can I sign up?
Answer: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month announced that beginning Sept. 1, farmers and ranchers can apply for financial assistance to help conserve working grasslands, rangeland and pastureland while maintaining the areas as livestock grazing lands.
The initiative is part of the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP is the federally funded program that for 30 years has assisted farmers and farmland owners with the cost of restoring, enhancing and protecting certain grasses, shrubs and trees to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat. In return, USDA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance.
New grassland incentive initiative is part of CRP
CRP has helped farmers and ranchers prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to cropland by 95% and 85% respectively, and even sequester 43 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.
"A record 400 million acres and 600,000 producers and landowners are currently enrolled in USDA's conservation programs," said Vilsack. "The Conservation Reserve Program has been one of the most successful conservation programs in the history of the country, and we are pleased to begin these grasslands incentives as we celebrate the CRP program's 30th year. This is another great example of how agricultural production can work hand-in- hand with efforts to improve the environment and increase wildlife habitat."
CRP-grasslands payments are tied to grazing value
The CRP-Grasslands initiative will provide participants who establish long-term, resource-conserving covers with annual rental payments up to 75% of the grazing value of the land. Cost-share assistance also is available for up to 50% of the covers and other practices, such as cross fencing to support rotational grazing or improving pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife. Participants may still conduct common grazing practices, produce hay, mow, or harvest for seed production, conduct fire rehabilitation, and construct firebreaks and fences.
With the publication of this new CRP regulation in July, the Farm Service Agency will accept applications for the grassland program on an ongoing basis beginning Sept. 1, 2015. Applications will be scored against published ranking criteria, and approved based on the competiveness of the offer. The ranking period will occur at least once a year and be announced at least 30 days prior to its start. The end of the first ranking period will be Nov. 20, 2015.
USDA has also announced state allotments for SAFE
Also last month, USDA announced state-by-state allotments for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE). Through SAFE, also a CRP initiative, up to 400,000 acres of additional agricultural land across 37 states will be eligible for wildlife habitat restoration funding. The additional acres are part of an earlier CRP wildlife habitat announcement made by Secretary Vilsack. Currently, more than 1 million acres, representing 98 projects, are enrolled in SAFE.
To learn more about participating in CRP-Grasslands or SAFE, visit fsa.usda.gov/crp or consult with the local Farm Service Agency county office. To locate a nearby Farm Service Agency office, visit offices.usda.gov. To learn more about the 30th anniversary of CRP, visit fsa.usda.gov/CRPis30 or follow on Twitter using #CRPis30.