August 20 is the deadline for farmers and ranchers to apply to enroll grasslands in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands program.
CRP Grasslands helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations, and improves environmental quality.
At least 2 million acres within CRP is reserved for grasslands enrollments, wherein livestock operations can be put in place or continued, provided the grassland resource is protected. The grassland enrollment prioritizes expiring CRP contracts, lands at risk of conversion or development, and grasslands important to wildlife and the local ecosystem. As of the end of 2020, there were nearly 1.9 million acres enrolled in the Grasslands Program spread out across 41 states.
Through CRP Grasslands, participants retain the right to conduct common grazing practices, such as haying, mowing or harvesting seed from the enrolled land. Timing of some activities may be restricted by the primary nesting season of birds.
Participants will receive an annual rental payment and may receive up to 50 percent cost-share for establishing approved conservation practices. The duration of the CRP contract is either 10 or 15 years. FSA will rank applications using a number of factors including existence of expiring CRP land, threat of conversion or development, existing grassland, and predominance of native species cover, and cost.
FSA has updated the Grasslands signup to establish a minimum rental rate of $15 per acre, as well as new National Grassland Priority Zones.
For more information on the CRP Grasslands program, see the USDA press release and fact sheet. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also has this post with more background on the program.
How to Sign Up
To enroll in the CRP Grasslands signup, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center by the August 20 deadline. While USDA offices may have limited visitors because of the pandemic, Service Center staff continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools.
More Information on CRP
Signed into law in 1985, CRP is one of the largest voluntary private-lands conservation programs in the United States. It was originally intended to primarily control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. The program has evolved over the years, providing many conservation and economic benefits. The program marked its 35-year anniversary this past December, with 22 million acres currently enrolled.