Better for Water, Better for Landowners, Better for Wildlife

By Bill White and Michelle Motley | December 2, 2006
From Missouri Conservationist: Dec 2006

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a voluntary cropland-retirement program that helps landowners improve drinking water quality, protect public health, improve wildlife habitat and conserve soil and water in watersheds serving public drinking water supplies.

CREP achieves all of this by reducing pesticides in drinking water supplies, reducing sediment inflow and erosion rates, helping farmers meet nutrient reduction goals and providing wildlife habitat enhancement for the preservation of natural diversity in the state.

CREP projects are unique because they partner federal and state agencies with local interests to provide annual rental payments and incentives to landowners.

Missouri’s first CREP agreement was put into action in 2000 through a partnership with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, public drinking water systems, landowners and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). Through this CREP project, Missouri enrolled more than 14,000 environmentally sensitive cropland acres. These areas are in watersheds of public drinking water supply reservoirs.

Eugene Keats, county executive director for FSA, oversees the administration of CREP in DeKalb County. “People are usually confident their drinking water is safe, but are often unaware of what it takes to make it safe,” said Keats. It is costly for cities and rural water providers to treat water for contaminants, and this translates to higher water bills for citizens.

“CREP creates the proverbial win-win situation,” said Keats. “Cities win because good vegetative cover is filtering potential contamination from public reservoirs, reducing treatment expense and helping meet regulatory guidelines. John Q. Public Taxpayer wins because he is using safer, cleaner, more affordable drinking water. Government wins because it does not have to legislate more programs to clean up water supplies downstream from reservoirs, and the farmer wins because he receives just compensation for renting land that is protected from erosion while it enhances water quality.”

Plattsburg City Manager D. J. Gehrt agrees: “Missouri CREP is a major factor in assuring the long-term availability of a quality water supply for all patrons of Smithville Lake.” Smithville Lake, just north of Kansas City, provides the drinking water for residents of Plattsburg, Smithville and Edgerton. Gerht says tests of the water in Smithville Lake have shown that levels of the corn herbicide atrazine have steadily dropped. This

has saved the city and water customers the added cost of filtering this herbicide from their drinking water.

Donald Graeff of Osborn raises corn and soybeans in the watershed that drains into Smithville Lake. Graeff thinks CREP is a great program. “I feel CREP has cut down on the sediment going into Smithville Reservoir,” said Graeff. “I think it will take more time to see the long-term results of CREP. Not everyone is in the program, but atrazine readings in Smithville Lake have been down.”

Tim Kelley, state executive director for FSA in Missouri, believes that CREP is also “a win-win-win for the natural resources that make Missouri a great place to live—the soil, water and wildlife.” And that is why Carol Ellis of Amity likes what CREP has done for her land. “We are renting the land to the government in return for preserving land, controlling erosion, protecting water quality and promoting wildlife,” she said. “We are doing what we can to earn what we receive.”

A few miles north of where the Smithville Lake watershed begins is the watershed that drains into the City of Maysville Reservoir. There, said Ellis, her land,“is providing sediment control for the reservoir, and I feel the wildlife population has increased. I am seeing quail, and for awhile I didn’t. I feel this program is doing something.”

Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell said, “Missouri farmers are using some of the most environmentally friendly farming techniques in history, yet each year we attain record or near-record yields. Conservation and agriculture go hand-in-hand.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation is a new addition to the CREP partnership and will allow the program to expand to almost one-third of the state and enroll up to 40,000 acres. MDC is committed to provide $1 million in direct payments to landowners to match up to $50 million in federal monies in CREP. This money is part of MDC’s efforts to increase funding for restoration of bobwhite quail and other grassland

birds, such as the state-endangered prairie chicken. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will provide an additional $2.5 million to landowners for signing incentives and cost-share payments.

Landowner Benefits

For the landowner, CREP can be more than just a cost-effective way to address rural environmental problems and meet regulatory requirements; it can provide a viable supplement to farm income as well.

Landowners can enroll qualifying acres into CREP in exchange for annual rental payments and incentive payments, plus additional help to establish practices.

On average, CREP annual rental payments for producers can run from $85 per acre to more than $100 per acre per year. Additional sign-up incentive payments provided by the state partners can equal from $125 to more than $350 per acre depending on the soil type and the location of the acres.

The expansion of CREP to include new river and lake watersheds (see map) brings statewide opportunities for landowners and farmers wishing to improve wildlife habitats and drinking water supplies

Lands Eligible for CREP

CREP is convenient for producers because it is based on the familiar, highly successful Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) model. With limited exceptions, land must be owned or leased for at least one year prior to enrollment to be eligible for CREP. The acres offered must be physically and legally capable of being cropped in a normal manner.

Land must also meet cropping history and other eligibility requirements. CREP enrollment is on a continuous basis, permitting farmers and ranchers to join the program at any time, rather than waiting for a specific sign-up period.

The CREP typically targets cropland acres. However, pasture acres adjacent to streams, ponds or other water sources can also be enrolled as either riparian tree buffers (CP22), wildlife buffers (CP29) or wetland buffers (CP30). Buffer widths on pastureland depend upon the practice and can range from a minimum of 25 feet to a maximum of 120 to 180 feet.

The following are eligible practices:

  • Native Grass Establishment (CP2)—Plant warm-season grass for cover
  • Wildlife Habitat Establishment (CP4D)—Plant warm-season grass and shrubby cover for wildlife
  • Grassed Waterways (CP8A)
  • Grass Cover Already Established (CP10)—Re-enroll warm-season grass established in previous CRP signups
  • Contour Grass Strips (CP15A)—Plant grass strips alternated with wider cultivated strips
  • Grass Filter Strips (CP21)—Plant grass buffers 25’–120’ wide adjacent to water sources
  • Riparian Buffer Strips (CP22)—Plant buffers to trees 50’–180’ wide adjacent to water sources
  • Wetland Restoration (CP23)—Restore the functions of wetland ecosystems
  • Rare and Declining Habitat (CP25)—Establish oak savanna or prairie habitats
  • Wildlife Habitat Buffers on Pasture (CP29)—Establish wildlife-friendly buffers adjacent to water sources
  • Wetland Buffer on Pasture (CP30)—Establish wildlife-friendly buffers on wetland soils adjacent to water sources
  • Bottomland Timber Establishment on Wetland Acres (CP31)—Plant hardwood trees
  • Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (CP33)—Establish warm-season grass buffers around cropped fields to benefit bobwhite quail and other grassland birds


Are you in a CREP watershed?

For more information on improving your land with CREP, visit your local Farm Service Agency office. Landowners can apply for the program at local USDA Farm Service Agency offices.

Estimated CREP Payment On 1 Acre Enrolled in the Riparian Buffer Strips On Cropland Practice (CP22)

  • FSA Annual Soil Rental Payment 1 Acre X $85 average payment per acreX 20% Incentive=$17 per acre= $102 per year
  • FSA Sign-up Incentive Payment 1 Acre X $100 per acre= $100 One-time payment
  • MDC Incentive Payment 1 Acre X $100 per acre= $100 One-time payment
  • Public Water Supply Grant

*only where eligible 1 Acre X $85 average annual soil rental paymentX 150%= $127.50 One-time payment


$102 per year per acre for 15 years and $327 in one-time payments per acre

Additional money is available from FSA and DNR for installing and maintaining the practice.

Contact your county FSA office for more information.

An additional one-time incentive of 150% of the annual soil rental rate is offered through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Rural Water Grant. Public drinking water systems, which qualify for this grant, are marked with stars on the watershed map. These water systems must have a signed agreement with the DNR in order for landowners to receive this payment.

Eligible drinking water systems include:

Archie, Bates Co. PWSD #2, Bethany, Bowling Green, Breckenridge, Brookfield, Bucklin, Butler, Cameron, Cass Co. PWSD #7, Clinton, Concordia, Creighton, Daviess Co. PWSD #3, Drexel, Fayette, Fredericktown, Garden City, Green City, Hamilton, Harrison Co. PWSD #1, Harrisonville, Harry S Truman PWSD #2, Higginsville, Henry Co. PWSD #3, Henry Co. Water Company, Holden, Ironton, King City, Lamar, Macon, Marceline, Maysville, Memphis, Milan, Moberly, Monroe City, Plattsburg, Perryville, Rich Hill, Savannah, Shelbina, Smithville, Unionville, Vandalia, Wellsville.

This Issue's Staff

Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Designer - Susan Fine
Circulation - Laura Scheuler