USDA unveils conservation incentives for farmers, ranchers

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Monday that beginning on Sept. 1, farmers and ranchers can apply for financial assistance to help conserve their working grasslands, rangeland and pastureland while maintaining the areas as livestock grazing lands.

The initiative is part of the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federally funded program that for 30 years has assisted agricultural producers with the cost of restoring, enhancing and protecting certain grasses, shrubs and trees to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. CRP has helped farmers and ranchers prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding; reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, relative to cropland, by 95 percent and 85 percent, respectively; and sequester 43 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.

“A record 400 million acres and 600,000 producers and landowners are currently enrolled in USDA’s conservation programs. The Conservation Reserve Program has been one of the most successful conservation programs in the history of the country, and we are pleased to begin these grasslands incentives as we celebrate the program’s 30th year,” Vilsack said. “This is another great example of how agricultural production can work hand-in-hand with efforts to improve the environment and increase wildlife habitat.”

The CRP-Grasslands initiative will provide participants who establish long-term, resource-conserving covers with annual rental payments up to 75 percent of the grazing value of the land.

Cost-share assistance also has been made available for up to 50 percent of the covers and other practices, such as cross-fencing to support rotational grazing or improving pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife.

Participants may still conduct common grazing practices, produce hay, mow or harvest for seed production, conduct fire rehabilitation, and construct firebreaks and fences.

The Farm Service Agency will accept applications on an ongoing basis beginning Sept. 1, with those applications scored against published ranking criteria and approved based on the competitiveness of the offer.

The ranking period will occur at least once per year and announced at least 30 days prior to its start. The end of the first ranking period will be Nov. 20.

Later this week, USDA also will announce state-by-state allotments for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE). Through SAFE, also a CRP initiative, up to 400,000 acres of additional agricultural land across 37 states will be eligible for wildlife habitat restoration funding. The additional acres are part of an earlier CRP wildlife habitat announcement made by Vilsack. As of now, more than 1 million acres, representing 98 projects, have been enrolled in SAFE.

The CRP-Grasslands program was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers.

The legislation also strengthens risk-management tools, expands access to rural credit and funds critical research. It also establishes innovative public-private conservation partnerships.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture

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