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CRP Expiring Acres Makeover

Conservation Reserve Program Expiring Acres Makeover

Salina, KS, June 27, 2011—Producers in Kansas have enrolled millions of acres of highly erodible cropland into the popular Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) over the last 25 years. As contracts have expired, some producers have chosen not to reenroll the acres or some acres are no longer eligible to be enrolled.

Brad Shank and Bryan Gottschalk discuss the results of the CRP acres makeover“As this CRP land returns to production, there are some management decisions to consider,” said Brad Shank, District Conservationist, at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hays Field Office.

“It is better to have a plan than just pull the disk out of the weeds and break out the native vegetation. Some of these acres probably should not have been broken out in the first place.”

Shank suggested a couple options for those areas that may not be feasible to farm: use Continuous CRP (CCRP) to keep those acres in grass or consider grazing the land rather than disturbing the sod.

Bryan Gottschalk, southwest Ellis County farmer, was contacted by a landowner who wanted to know if he would be interested in farming some expired CRP land. Gottschalk evaluated it and thought maybe there were some acres that could be farmed and some that should be left in native vegetation.

“Farm the best and protect the rest” is how Gottschalk determines in his operation what acres will be productive cropland and those that might be better left in CRP.

Bryan Gottshalk digs hand into soil that was previously enrolled in CRP“Gravelly, rocky, poor soil is not fun to farm,” says Gottschalk. “You have a lot of wear and tear on you equipment, and you cannot make it pay.”

To adhere to Gottschalk’s farming philosophy, the land that had been in the CRP for over 15 years was about to get a “makeover,” adjusting the original conservation plan to a mix of grass buffers and cropland.

Gottschalk went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center, Hays, and visited with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and NRCS staffs to see what kind of conservation plan could be developed that would include cropping the best part and protecting the rest.

According to Shank, the land had a conservation plan that was developed when it was enrolled into the CRP. Originally, some years prior to CRP enrollment, the landowner had installed a waterway and terraces, and they were still in good shape.

Greg Kerr, County Executive Director, FSA, and Shank, met with Gottschalk and walked the land listening while he explained what was farmable from his perspective. Kerr and Shank then began developing a conservation plan map to meet the landowner’s and Gottschalk’s request as well as the CCRP requirements. FSA administers the CRP and NRCS provides technical assistance and develops the conservation plan.

“Since the ground was already in CRP, new grass did not need to be established,” said Shank.

The makeover used two practices of CCRP: State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) CP38 and field borders CP33. USDA’s CCRP provides an opportunity for producers, at any time, to enroll eligible acreage into conservation buffers that are highly beneficial in protecting water quality, preventing soil erosion, and improving wildlife habitat.

The SAFE practice targets habitat restoration for bobwhite quail, ringneck pheasant, greater prairie-chicken, and other grassland-associated wildlife by creating nesting/brood-rearing habitat on portions of crop fields.

According to Shank, the nice part for the landowner about this makeover is the existing CRP cover does not need to be reestablished on the poorer, rough ground that could be enrolled into the CCRP through SAFE and habitat buffers for upland birds—sometimes referred to as field borders. Both practices allow removing some of the sharp points in the field to improve the farmability of the remaining cropland. Much like the general CRP but on a smaller scale, the landowner receives incentive payments and a payment for the acres enrolled into the CCRP.

In the fall of 2009, Gottschalk began getting the land ready to plant in the fall of 2010. He hayed all but the roughest areas. In the spring he began disking the cropland lightly, repeating that process four or five times, going deeper each time and then letting the land lay. He did not plow the terraces. In the fall he undercut with sweeps to bring up the roots, applied fertilizer, and then planted wheat. Gottschalk farms on the contour and works the ground less with no-till or minimum till to minimize wind and water erosion.

“Leaving the rough spots and edges in native grass combined with planting a crop provides a diverse feed source and provides good wildlife habitat,” said Shank.

“It has worked out good for wildlife,” said Gottschalk.

Bryan Gottshalk, Landon Leiker, and Brad Shank stand in acres enrolled in CCRP.When showing off his CRP field makeover this spring, five pheasants flushed out of the CRP that had been left intact. Gottschalk, Shank, and Landon Leiker, Buffer Coordinator, Ellis County Conservation District, were pleased.

Shank provided the following suggestions to landowners taking expiring acres out of CRP:

  • Check out Continuous CRP options for expiring CRP as well as new acres for enrolling into the program.
  • Be sure conservation compliance is maintained on the land—that the terraces are functioning and that the right amount of residue is left on the surface.
  • Check the nutrients of the expired CRP land being brought into production, because the soil has few nutrients.

For more information about incorporating expiring CRP acres into your farming operation, visit your local USDA Service Center and talk with the NRCS staff or conservation district staff about your conservation plan.

Information is available on the Web site at NRCS is an equal opportunity provider and employer.