Prairie Pothole Wetland and Grassland Retention Project
Recent increases in corn and soybean production in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), located in the upper Midwest and Northern Plains, have created new pressures on the region’s grasslands and wetlands. Several factors are driving the increase in crop production, including corn and soybean prices, warming weather patterns and improved crop varieties that allow for the growing of more crops. These drivers have occurred during the same time that the region has seen a three million acre reduction in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
CRP, a USDA conservation program, retires marginal cropland from production and restores grassland.
To assist in maintaining this region’s extensive and valuable natural resource benefits, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners are offering producers various options to consider before they convert grassland or return expired CRP acres to cropland. NRCS field staff will encourage eligible producers to evaluate these options and select the ones that will keep them economically viable and also strengthen their stewardship ethic.
The Prairie Pothole Region
This unique PPR landscape is known for its diverse wetlands and large areas of native prairie, provides critical habitat for more than 60 percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl. Maintaining this habitat ensures that the region’s wildlife and associated conservation benefits, including water quality protection, potential flood reduction and and carbon sequestration will continue.
This project will occur in portion of eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, central Iowa and western Minnesota in Fiscal Year 2014. Montana will participate only in the carbon trading portion of the project this fiscal year.
Conservation Programs for the Project
NRCS is committing up to $35 million over three years to help producers protect the grasslands and wetlands in the PPR. The agency's financial commitment to this project is for three years; however, it can be extended if additional funding is secured. The project will cover the following areas for Iowa:
Targeted Delivery of EQIP
NRCS will provide up to $30 million through EQIP to producers with expired or expiring CRP acreage, existing grasslands or marginal cropland. Producers will gain up to two additional years of payment beyond the traditional three years for selected practices including prescribed grazing, wetland wildlife habitat management and upland wildlife habitat management. Producers can use these practices to effectively address grassland- and wetland-related natural resource concerns, including wildlife. NRCS’ goal is to help producers improve more than 45,000 acres of grazing acreage and more than 120,000 acres of wetland and wildlife habitat.
Agricultural Wetland Mitigation Banking
Development and use of wetland mitigation banks is one way for agricultural producers to comply with Wetland Conservation Compliance (WCC) provisions, but their use is not widespread. NRCS will use CIG to solicit projects that would develop wetland mitigation banking options in the PPR. The 2014 Farm Bill also includes a provision to stimulate wetland mitigation banking in the PPR.
Benefits to Producers
This project will offer farmers and conservation partners various financial and technical assistance opportunities that can reduce the conversion rate of grasslands and wetlands Incentives also will be offered to improve management of grazing land. Grazing is a compatible land use that provides significant natural resource benefits.
Using existing authorities under EQIP and CIG, the state can immediately assist interested producers in exploring these various options to maintain and restore their grasslands and/or wetlands.