At a time when farmers are dealing with severe weather problems and low commodity prices, it’s no surprise there’s rising interest in conservation programs. Farmers are trying to determine the best avenues to deal with unproductive ground, protect unplanted acres and improve their land.
Jeff Vander Wilt with the Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCS) recommends stopping by your local NRCS office to learn what options are available.
“Get in the door, and we can sit down and talk about your operation and provide technical assistance,” Vander Wilt says.
The deadline for one program, Continuous CRP, is fast approaching. The signup period is open now through Aug. 23. That program offers 10-year and 15-year contracts so environmentally sensitive ag land can be used for conservation benefits.
Interest is so high in some programs that applications have exceeded available funding, prompting the NRCS to request additional funding. More than 2,600 farmers applied for an EQIP cover crop assistance program.
“The response was quite overwhelming,” said Vander Wilt, who expected 800 to 900 applications.
The NRCS had enough funding for 300 of those applications. A request has been submitted for additional funding, but federal money is difficult to get this time of year. Vander Wilt said he’s “cautiously optimistic” and hopeful they can provide assistance to one-fourth of the applicants.
The NRCS also received 600 applications for its Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and will fund about 200 of those. They should learn soon whether they’ll receive any additional funding for that program. South Dakota is one of the nation’s leaders in CSP acres, and the program continues to grow.
Targeting flooded areas
This year’s flooding has boosted momentum for two other programs: the Wetland Reserve Easement and the Water Bank Program. There are other programs, including Gov. Noem’s Second Century Initiative, which sets aside money to protect and enhance wildlife habitat, and a saline/sodic initiative through a partnership between South Dakota Corn and Pheasants Forever.
“There are more programs now than ever,” said Ben Lardy, a Pheasants Forever soil health coordinator stationed in an NRCS office. “There’s something for everyone. Now’s a good time for farmers to reevaluate their acres.”
Lardy said one of the easiest conservation steps farmers could take this year is planting some perennial vegetation or cover crops in trouble areas or land that couldn’t be planted into cash crops.
Conservation opportunities are likely to grow through partnerships involving the NRCS, Farm Service Agency, Pheasants Forever, South Dakota Corn, the Game, Fish and Parks department and others.
Even if some of the programs are filled for this year, it’s an ideal time to get a jump on next year by comparing options because signups will open this fall.
“The earlier, the better,” Vander Wilt said. “Farmers can sign up in the fall and funding decisions will be made over the winter.”