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CRP - Planning It Out

Acreage for new signup exceeds 700,000 acres in Texas

story by Quenna Terry

A few years ago no one knew for certain if the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) would continue as it had in past years. Landowners were not sure if the opportunity to re-enroll their land or to make new bids would be available for this popular USDA program.

Born out of the Dust Bowl as a way to combat erosion, particularly on Highly Erodible Land (HEL), the demand for CRP has remained strong as the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) prepares to develop over 4,000 conservation plans for CRP contracts in Texas.

This historic conservation program has continued into the 43rd general signup. Farm Service Agency’s Acting Executive Director James B. Douglass in Texas announced recently that 767,242 acres were accepted in the new signup, while the total number of active CRP acres in the state now exceeds 3.3 million.

NRCS in the Panhandle and South Plains region assume the majority of the total enrolled acres in the state with 3,800 conservation plans to be developed by August 10, 2012.

Conservation plans are not contracts, but rather a record of objectives planned out by the producer working with the NRCS. As in any conservation plan written by NRCS, the information is a road map designed to help producers protect and improve their land.< br />
As the primary technical agency, NRCS’ role in CRP is to work with participants to establish permanent grass cover based on the participant’s decisions during the sign-up period. These decisions are recorded in a conservation plan developed by NRCS. The conservation plan supports the CRP contract for the establishment of permanent grass cover.

Mickey Black, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist in Lubbock said, “The process begins with technical assistance to landowners enrolled in the program to plan approved grass plantings and species, weed control options, dead litter covers, and additional supporting practices depending on a producer’s enrollment.”

All participants with approved acreage for Sign-up 43 will be contacted by the NRCS to schedule field visits for vegetative evaluations to determine what additional, if any, grass species will need to be planted to meet program requirements. Producers will have the opportunity to be present during the inspections to ask any questions and be involved in the process.

“NRCS starts conducting field evaluations once producers have been notified of their acceptance,” said Brandt Underwood, NRCS Agronomist for the High Plains region. “Some of our NRCS resource teams currently have as many as 900 conservation planning documents to develop.”

According to NRCS, the technical assistance they provide is a critical component of the program’s success for establishing management practices needed to conserve resources and protect the land.

“CRP provides long-term benefits such as reducing soil erosion and sedimentation in streams and lakes, protecting the nation’s ability to produce food and fiber, improving water quality, establishing wildlife habitat, and enhancing forest and wetland resources,” Black said.

The conservation planning documents written by NRCS will incorporate all of the practices needed to address specific resource concerns on the land to accomplish the known benefits.

Underwood described CRP as one of the most effective conservation programs for protecting highly erodible acres from wind and water erosion.

“CRP has established grass cover on acreage that is very sensitive and highly susceptible to wind and water erosion,” Underwood said. “This grass cover has reduced the erosion rates on H-E-L lands to sustainable losses and is protecting our natural resource base for future generations.”

Nationally, NRCS will be assisting landowners developing conservation plans for 3.9 million acres.

Mike White, NRCS District Conservationist in Hereford, and Shannon Rowley, NRCS District Conservationist in Stinnett, conduct a CRP field evaluation on an established stand of native grasses near Hereford.

Mike White, NRCS District Conservationist in Hereford, and Shannon Rowley, NRCS District Conservationist in Stinnett, conduct a CRP field evaluation on an established stand of native grasses near Hereford.