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Published July 22, 2013, 10:30 AM

Conversion of CRP

When the Conservation Reserve Program was initially launched in the 1985 farm bill, its goals were primarily soil erosion control and improved water quality. Over time, the program has created an unprecedented positive impact on habitat for many game and nongame species in South Dakota, explains Pete Bauman, South Dakota State University Extension range field specialist.

By: SDSU Extension Service,

BROOKINGS, S.D. — When the Conservation Reserve Program was initially launched in the 1985 farm bill, its goals were primarily soil erosion control and improved water quality. Over time, the program has created an unprecedented positive impact on habitat for many game and nongame species in South Dakota, explains Pete Bauman, South Dakota State University Extension range field specialist.

Statewide, there has been a significant drop in CRP acre renewals in the past two years, with many producers opting out of contract extensions in favor of converting marginal CRP lands back to row crops. In 2013, roughly 128,000 acres of CRP will expire in South Dakota — 22,000 acres west of the Missouri River and 106,000 east of it.

“It is projected that at least a portion of these acres will be re-enrolled in the program,” Bauman says. “On remaining acres, landowners will have to make a decision on retaining the CRP as grass cover or converting the land back to crops.”

The 2012 drought negatively impacted rangeland production across South Dakota, and the most recent Natural Resources Conservation Service model predicted that a significant portion of central South Dakota may still only produce about 80 percent of normal production.

“These circumstances, coupled with grassland conversion, have impacted pasture rental and cash purchase rates as producers attempt to secure additional grazing acres,” Bauman says.

Utilizing expiring CRP for grazing may prove to be a beneficial option for grazing operators, landowners and absentee landowners, and wildlife if the correct approach and relationships are developed, he says.

“If livestock producers can connect with CRP owners, conversion of these grasslands to grazing/hay use may be quite feasible depending on CRP landowner interests and values,” Bauman says. “Without understanding the grazing alternative, CRP landowners may gravitate back to crops simply out of convenience.”

Currently, several agencies and organizations are willing to work with landowners to convert expiring CRP acres into haying and grazing management. SDSU Extension, NRCS, and Pheasants Forever all have grassland specialists on hand to assist landowners in the decision making process.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks offer assistance options through their private lands programs.

“A key component in developing a grazing plan for expiring CRP is building a relationship with the CRP owner,” Bauman says.

Some things to consider when approaching an expiring CRP landowner for a grazing option:

• Share information. Offer to work with him or her to explore the best alternatives for fence, water and other needs.

• Educate. Help the CRP owner understand the importance of keeping the grazing industry strong in South Dakota.

• Show sincerity. Offer your services and consider providing the labor for any improvement projects.

• Bring in a third party adviser to help with quality assessment and to ensure balance between the livestock and haying goals and objectives and the CRP owner’s goals and objectives. CRP landowners will likely retain wildlife or habitat interests and may want to limit grazing access to some portions of the project area.

• Rental or purchase rates for grass are on the rise. Acknowledge this and offer a fair deal.

• Consider a long-term lease option that provides for fairness in rental rates, stocking rates, grazing timing and labor inputs by all parties.

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