USDA's General Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup is upon us and it’s decision time! With current grain prices, many landowners may be contemplating whether or not to re-enroll CRP acres. The next several blog posts offer options to help you make an educated decision on the future of your CRP.
Consider re-enrolling your CRP contract. Don’t worry if your current CRP soil rental rate payment is too low. There’s a good chance the rental rate has improved since the last time you signed the CRP contract. Over the last five years FSA has adjusted CRP soil rental rates. Check with your local USDA Service Center to see what the new soil rental rates are. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Back in the 1990s, most warm-season CRP fields were planted to a mix of “giant” native grasses and a pinch of wildflowers. Back then we thought more was better, so many grass seeding rates were around 8 to 12 pounds per acre. We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 to 15 years about establishing native grasses! Research has shown we can have good habitat and reduce soil erosion with much lower seeding rates (around 3 to 5 pounds of grass along with 3 pounds of native wildflowers per acre). Better seeding mixes are good for the landowner and good for wildlife.
Instead of re-enrolling the current grass cover, whether it is warm-season or cool-season, consider replanting the field to a quail-friendly mix of little bluestem, wildflowers and legumes. Old CRP fields will need two to three herbicide applications to effectively remove the existing cover. Don’t skimp on herbicide either. You’ll pay for it in the long run with re-invading fescue or brome. During the current CRP sign up consult with your local wildlife biologist or private land conservationist for recommended seeding mixes and conversion techniques. Converting to a quail-friendly mix is also likely to improve your overall CRP score.
Consider converting 10 percent of your existing CRP into pollinator habitat blocks. Pollinators like honeybees and native insects are experiencing significant population declines due to loss of habitat, loss of floral diversity, invasive plants, disease and parasites. Both honey bees and native bees are important to agriculture:
Pollinator plots are great for butterflies, bees and numerous wildlife species. Establish these plots in block or long narrow bands adjacent to shrubby cover. These plots will provide outstanding deer browse, plus great bugging areas for grassland birds throughout the spring, summer and fall. Providing pollinator habitat will also improve your overall CRP score.
The next MOre Quail blog will look at keeping buffers around fields that may be coming out of CRP.