Deadline for Conservation Reserve Program fast approaching in increasingly competitive sign-up |

Deadline for Conservation Reserve Program fast approaching in increasingly competitive sign-up

A map of the U.S. demonstrates the number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reservation Program as of Dec. 31, 2015. Total acres enrolled is 23.6 million, with a heavy concentration in northeastern Colorado.

To be eligible

Land must serve as: buffers for wildlife habitat, wetlands buffer, riparian buffer, wetland restoration, filter strips, grass waterways, shelter belts, living snow fences, contour grass strips, salt tolerant vegetation, shallow water areas for wildlife. For more information on how to apply, contact your local Farm Service Agency.

The deadline to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program is Feb. 26, and with cuts to the program this year, the sign-up will be competitive. Landowners interested in the program shouldn’t delay, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Fence Post last week.

The program works to address conservation issues, including drinking water protection, soil erosion, habitat preservation, preservation and restoration of forests and wetlands and aiding farmers whose farms are damaged by natural disasters, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. Under this program, the government essentially rents land from farmers. In exchange for payment, farmers take environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production and plant species that will improve land health and quality. Contracts last for 10-15 years.

Jeff Wilson, Weld County’s executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, said Weld will likely feel the cuts, as northeastern Colorado has a high concentration of those enrolled in the program.

“The total ceiling is being reduced,” Wilson said.

“People who are used to having the government as renters may need to find someone else.”

Weld County farmers typically put the maximum 25 percent of total county cropland allowed into the Conservation Reserve Program. This comes out to about 250,000 acres of cropland per year.

Vilsack said 1.6 million-1.7 million acres nationwide will be cut over the next six months or so.

“If you reduce the national number, that will affect the county,” Wilson said. “We will hit a national ceiling before we hit our county limitation.”

The cuts will not affect farmers and ranchers already enrolled in the program. It will, however, affect those up for renewal or those seeking entry.

“People who are used to having the government as renters may need to find someone else,” Wilson said.

Some alternative options include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program and conservation easements.

Since Colorado is an aggressive user of the program, Vilsack said he expects people will seek out alternatives.

With commodity prices at a low point, transitioning land back into agricultural uses isn’t an attractive option. It would continue to flood an already full market without producing enough.

Some land has been out of agricultural use for 20 years, Wilson said. It would require hefty inputs to make the soil productive again.

Vilsack said program administrators will be selective in the selection process for the program.

“We will try to focus our efforts on land that needs it the most, like pollinator and upland bird habitat,” he said. ❖

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