Even after three decades, I still run into people who don’t realize that the Conservation Reserve Program is a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At its peak in 2007, 36.7 million acres were enrolled in CRP nationally. North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota were among the leaders in CRP enrollment, and the program was popular in northwestern Minnesota, too.
Since then, the program has lost acres steadily, as the acreage cap was reduced. Today, about 24 million acres are enrolled nationally, which is the maximum acreage allowed.
Much of acreage reduction has occurred in the Upper Midwest. North Dakota peaked in 2007 with about 3.4 million acres, Currently, North Dakota has about 1.2 million active CRP acres, with about 39,000 acres set to expire in 2016, and 345,000 acres expiring in 2017.
But even so, interest in the program remains high, and for the first time in more than two years, the USDA has opened a general CRP enrollment period, which began Dec. 1 and runs through Feb. 26.
Like the last general enrollment, applications received during the signup period will be ranked against others according to an Environmental Benefit Index. Kevin Kading, North Dakota Game and Fish Department private land section leader, said there are some EBI factors that producers can influence.
“Cost share is where we can help,” Kading emphasized. “Landowners can offer a higher diversity grass mix, like pollinators, which can improve the EBI. We can help with the costs associated with that higher diversity mix and offer additional incentives if producers are willing to enroll the land into the Department’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen walk-in access program.”
Game and Fish Department private land biologists and other conservation partners, such as Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists and county Soil Conservation District farm bill specialists, can help landowners find the best possible combination of factors that could positively influence their EBI score and increase the likelihood of acceptance into the program.
Several workshops for landowners are scheduled in late January and early February. More information on those workshops is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.
Landowners who are not able to attend any of the sessions but are interested in further program information can call the Game and Fish Bismarck office at (701) 328-6300; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again this year, Game and Fish can make arrangements with contractors to assist producers with land preparation, grass seeding and CRP management.
Additional CRP general signup information
• Land not currently enrolled in CRP may be offered for enrollment. Also, CRP participants with contracts expiring Sept. 30, 2016, may submit offers. Accepted contracts for CRP general signup 49 will be effective Oct. 1, 2016. To be eligible, land must have been planted to an ag commodity four of the previous six years and be “physically and legally capable of being planted in a normal manner to an agricultural commodity.”
• To be eligible, a farmer must have owned or operated land for at least 12 months before the previous sign-up period. There are exceptions: land acquired by the new owner because of the previous owner’s death; change in ownership from foreclosure; land bought by the new owner without the intention of placing it in CRP.
• Contracts are for no less than 10 years and can’t be longer than 15 years. Some conservation practices are limited to 10 years; other practices are 10 to 15 years.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email at email@example.com