Landowners with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts are required to apply mid-contract management practices to their CRP land including disking, burning, spraying or interseeding to help establish plants and to assure an early successful plant growth stage.
The time period for applying these practices depends on the individual practice. However, these activities cannot be performed during the nesting or brood rearing season of May 15-Aug. 1, according to John Myers with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Landowners are not required to annually apply management practices, but they must complete them prior to the seventh year of a 10-year contract and prior to the 10th year of a 15-year contract.
"CRP mid-contract management will increase plant species and structural diversity," said Myers. "It will also provide wildlife early use of the vegetation, habitat for declining species, and remove duff and control woody vegetation."
Myers says managing plant communities is beneficial, if not essential, for grassland bird species like meadowlarks, quail and pheasants. "More diverse grasslands provide all the lifecycle habitat requirements for multiple species in a small area," he said.
NRCS Standards and Specifications will be used to apply mid-contract management options. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) can provide 50 percent cost-share for the following activities:
Disking CRP stands that are three years or older at a two- to four-inch depth may be necessary to increase open ground and encourage a diverse plant community of annual and perennial plants. NRCS requires disking just one-third of the field at a time and rotating the disked areas in strips no more than 75 feet wide across the field. "An area twice the width of the disked area should be left between the strips," said Mark Lindflott, state biologist with NRCS in Iowa. "The disked area should provide no more than 50 percent bare ground, leaving at least 50 percent ground cover to prevent soil erosion."
Prescribed burning is used to remove excess litter, which may reduce the quality of wildlife habitat. Controlled fire can also allow germination of seed bearing annuals and wildflowers, increase plant species diversity, control unwanted woody cover, and open up CRP stands for movement of small animals and birds.
Burns must be completed according to a Prescribed Burn Plan that meets the technical specifications of the Iowa NRCS conservation plan standard. Prescribed Burning job sheets are available at your local NRCS office.
Selected herbicides can be used to manipulate plant succession and improve habitat diversity. NRCS recommends treating up to one-third of a field at a time, spraying from Aug. 2 to Sept. 30 or from Oct. 1 to May 14.
For cool season introduced grass stands, spraying should be done in blocks or strips up to 50 feet wide, interspersed with non-treated blocks or strips equal to twice the sprayed strip width. Stands of native grasses or mixed stands of grasses should be sprayed in narrow strips of less than two feet wide with a much wider (at least 10 feet) unsprayed strip in between.
"Careful planning and care are required in the use of chemicals to improve existing habitat," said Myers. "Selection of products should be based on product effectiveness, non-target species impact, toxicological risks, and off-site movement of chemicals."
All herbicides must be applied according to product label and to federal, state and local regulations.
Adding introduced legumes such as alfalfa, ladino or red clovers, or native legumes and forbs such as black-eyed susan, partridge pea, white or purple prairie clover, or tick trefoil, will add diversity and structure to an existing cover.
Interseeding time periods:
Aug. 2 to Sept. 30 or March 1 to May 14 to interseed introduced forbs and legumes
April 15 to May 14 to interseed native forbs and legumes
Measures must be taken to control noxious weeds and other invasive species.
Spot spray to control noxious weeds to protect forbs and legumes that benefit native pollinators and other wildlife, and that provide insect food sources for grassland nesting birds.
CRP contracts used for biomass are not required to perform mid-contract management.