CRP requires care just like any other crops
Since being signed into law more than 30 years ago, the federal Conservation Reserve Program has grown to be the largest conservation program in the country.
The CRP was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
Al Lange, state CRP program manager with the NRCS, said the CRP has three main areas of focus that include a wide range of programs for landowners to participate in.
“CRP is a great program used by USDA participants,” said Lange. “The three main areas of focus are water quality, soil erosion and wildlife projects and is one of the USDA’s premier conservation programs.”
CRP is a large part of conservation efforts in the state of Iowa, Lange said.
In fact, Iowa leads the nation in CRP contracts at approximately 109,000.
Lange said these contracts include a large matrix of CRP programs ranging from filter strips to full field enrollments.
“CRP is very popular,” he said. “It does a lot of great things for conservation in our state.”
According to Lange, enrolling into the CRP can be complex at times.
There are more than 40 CRP options available and a nationwide enrollment cap at 24 million acres, making the decision as to what will be the best fit for land and hoping there is room for land could be an issue.
Often times, he said, there will be an opportunity for a general sign up through a local county’s FSA office, but that isn’t always an available option.
Lange suggested those interested should visit their county’s FSA and NRCS offices for help with the enrollment process.
Managing CRP acres is something that has to be done at least annually, if not more frequently, according to Lange.
“When a producer signs up for CRP, they choose the vegetation community and they are to maintain that throughout the terms of the contract,” said Lange. “This means keeping it weed free. However, situations do come about and these policies can be addressed.”
With the ever-growing concern of the invasion of Palmer amaranth, many producers have been questioning what their weed control efforts should consist of in their CRP acres.
It is believed Palmer aramanth has made its way into Iowa through seed mixes used to plant CRP acres.
“Palmer aramanth has been a recent challenge and it will take thought and strategy to combat it,” said Lange. “Weed control has always been a top priority, herbaceous weed control is standard within the CRP contract. Within the contract, CRP policy requires weeds be managed on the land if there are any weeds that propose a threat to the CRP ground or neighboring crops and fields.”
The first step to managing weeds within CRP acres, Lange said, is to figure out how to control weeds and still maintain the vegetation.
Lange said he recommends possibly mowing the weed patches and treating specific spots first. If that doesn’t take care of the issue, he said CRP participants are allowed to eradicate the weeds within their contracted acres using whatever means possible.
However, in some cases, if infestations are severe enough, there are options of terminating the CRP.
Before that extreme, Lange said it is hopeful a plan can be put into place.
“Producers need to come in and talk to the FSA and NRCS and together come up with a strategy to hopefully save the stand and keep them in the program,” he said.
For controlling Palmer amaranth, Lange said they are not treating it any differently than other weeds they have had to control in the past. However, due to increasing concern of the fast-growing weed, he said a tech note will be sent to county FSA offices soon.
“It will be sent out to help assist producers, to help develop specific control methods, all within CRP policy, letting them know what those are and how to approach different techniques,” said Lange.
“We have been making special outreach efforts to help deal with this plant.”
The three resource concerns the CRP primarily tries to target, Lange said, are done so with a variety of practices within the program that range from low management requirements to some that are more complex to manage.
He said a simple seeding of brome grass is a particular practice that was seen at the beginning of the CRP and tends to still be a more traditional means of the program today.
“But as the CRP program has evolved and wildlife habitats and soil erosion strategies were put into place, a different vegetative growth was required,” said Lange.
He cited one example that is benefiting wildlife as the Iowa Early Successional Quail Habitat.
Designed for areas of southern Iowa, this particular habitat will be most beneficial for bobwhite quail by restoring top quality winter nesting and early successional habitats.
This practice is expected to help increase quail populations in the state and other grassland birds and species, and pollinators are also expected to benefit through this practice, according to Lange.
He added another more complex CRP practice is the native tall grasses that are used in such cases as prairie restoration.
“That management could be a little more difficult, especially with weed control having more of a variety of mixes of grasses and flowering plants,” said Lange.
Regardless of the work it takes to keep CRP acres thriving, Lange said it appears to him many of the participants don’t mind.
“I see that a lot of participants enjoy managing their CRP acres,” he said. “It’s always annual management, but I think they enjoy participating in it in general and it’s really no different than managing other crops.”
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