The multiplicity of benefits associated with conservation practices are numerous. From the beginnings of human civilization, farmers have been stewards of the land and quite often served as its most steadfast guardian. But in addition to the social values ascribed good stewardship, the federal government also offers a number of payment-driven programs that encourage farmers and landowners to offer the ground a relief.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are a diverse series of offerings that partner cash-incentives with ecological stewardship for the purpose of improving water quality, reducing soil erosion, and increasing habitats for endangered and threatened species. Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, the CRP is the largest private-lands conservation program in the U.S. Regardless the region in which your land may lie, while the CSP offers a wide range of options. Between the two, chances are, there’s a program tailored for you.
Bottomland hardwoods are streamside forest trees typically growing in lands prone to flooding. The CRP aims to reduce erosion and improve overall soil conservation, water quality and wildlife habitat by encouraging landowners with this initiative, all the while increasing the supply of valuable timber in years to come by way of oak, maple, ash and cypress. The financial benefit to participation is 10 to 15 years of annual rental payments with an additional 20 percent Rental Rate Incentive. Payments cover 90 percent of eligible costs toward establishing the wetland restoration practice by way of 50 percent from a Cost-Share Payment and 40 percent from a Practice Incentive Payment (PIP). Sign-up Incentive Payments of up to $150 per acre are available through this program.
The Duck Nesting Habitat Initiative provides habitat for various wildlife species such as ducks and other grassland birds. Impact goals of this initiative include increasing duck populations, providing hydrologic storage which mitigates flooding, all the while promoting carbon sequestration. Financial benefits include 10 to 15 years of annual payments with an additional 20 percent Rental Rate Incentive, as well as payments covering 90 percent of the eligible costs of establishing the wetland restoration practice with 50 percent coming from a Cost-Share Payment and 40 percent from a Practice Incentive Payment. Sign-up Incentive Payments (SIP) of up to $150 per acre are also available.
This initiative is designed to enhance honey bee and native pollinator populations, which enable the production of more than 90 commercially grown crops in North America, while also promoting soil quality and carbon sequestration. The program helps landowners establish, manage and replace existing cover crop vegetation with various seed mixes to attract pollinators ranging from bees to butterflies. The financial benefits include 10 years of annual rent payments and payments covering 50 percent of the eligible costs of establishment, as well as a Sign-up Incentive Payment (SIP) up to $150 per acre.
The Longleaf Pine Initiative is designed to restore and enhance longleaf pine ecosystems throughout the country. The longleaf pine has declined dramatically since the early 20th century, down from 90 million acres to about 4 million. These types of forests are more resistant to insects, diseases, dire, and other types of southern pine forests, and also support a number of endangered species, including the gopher tortois and red cockaded woodpecker. Longleaf pines are also more wind firm and can even sustain hurricanes while promoting carbon sequestration. Financial benefits include 10 to 15 years of annual rental payments covering 90 percent of the eligible costs with 50 percent coming from a Cost-Share Payment and 40 percent from a Practice Incentive Payment. Sign-up Incentive Payments are available up to $75 per acre.
Fragile lands susceptible to erosion can be protected through this initiative which targets cropland with an Erosion Index exceeding 20 for the establishment of grass or tree cover. In addition to reducing runoff and erosion, this program helps retain productive topsoil while enhancing wildlife habitat and improving overall air quality. The financial benefits include 10 years of annual rental payments with a 50 percent Cost-Share payment for establishing the practice.
Conservation Stewardship Program
The CSP is administered under the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which provides conservation program payments annually for land use based on operation-level programs. Unlike the CRP’s more static model, CSP participants are paid for conservation performance, with higher payments given for higher operational performance. With a CSP, an entire operation is enrolled and works directly with a state conservation in consult with a state’s technical committee to focus on specific impacts concerning an area. Eligible lands include cropland, pasture, range, nonindustrial private forest as well as lands under the jurisdiction of Native American tribes.
A number of factors can determine the various rates and monies paid to participants in the CSP, with performance markers set for different types of land and operation. Contacting your local USDA service center for more information is the first step in determining CSP or CRP eligibility.
Other financial opportunities
Consider the actual cash payments to be just one of many opportunities involved in these programs. The sale of the timber grown on qualifying properties is a potential long-term investment, and the USDA does permit the baling of hay and grazing of some properties enrolled in the CRP. Additional revenue opportunities involve hunting or beekeeping alongside some of the programs depending on qualifying markers. Meanwhile, the CSP not only pays producers for participation, but ultimately improves the overall performance of the operation. In the end, stewardship of your land is more than a worthwhile endeavor across many measures.
Brian Boyce is an award-winning writer living on a farm in west-central Indiana. You can see more of his work at www.boycegroupinc.com.