USDA awards MDC two partnership projects to enhance cropland acres, restore and protect sand prairies

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) will continue initiatives to integrate conservation with agriculture practices and help restore and manage sand prairies after being awarded two partnership projects through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Through RCPP, conservation partners work in collaboration with NRCS to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners throughout the nation to implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve wildlife habitats, and increase climate resilience.

“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is public-private partnership working at its best,” said Terry Cosby, acting chief for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “These new projects will harness the power of partnership to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”

Precision Farm Data And Strategic Buffer Placement

NRCS is awarding Missouri $930,377 to create and implement management strategies that target unprofitable cropland acres. This project will utilize farm data to enhance water and soil health, target at-risk grassland-associated species habitat on agricultural land, and assist producers to avoid the need for natural resource regulatory requirements. Project goals include:

  • Utilizing on-farm yield data to identify non-profitable cropland acres and establish the areas to high-diversity herbaceous buffers.
  • Decrease water and soil quality degradation through the adoption of alternative management regimes designed to mitigate nutrient runoff and soil erosion from cropland.
  • Encourage producers to make informed decision by targeting conservation practices that maximize environmental benefits.

“This project will focus on using row crop yield data to identify non-profitable cropland,” explained MDC Farm Bill Coordinator Lisa Potter. “Participants will use this information to convert non-productive cropland to a diverse mix of native warm-season grasses and forbs, which provide drought tolerance, help improve soil health, and provide essential habitat for many declining pollinator and grassland bird species. Encouraging producers to transition their low-yield acres to native warm-season grasses and forbs will also save producers time and input costs associated with producing a crop. This project is a great example of how true collaboration among our Missouri conservation and agriculture partners can help us all better serve Missouri producers in ways that can address both economic and conservation concerns on their farms.”

The funding amount will be for five years and will be used to provide cost-share to landowners in support of applying eligible practices. Missouri counties included in the project area are Saline, Lafayette, Pettis, Macon, Randolph, Chariton, and Linn.

Landowners who qualify to participate in this project are encouraged to contact their local MDC Private Land Conservationist for more information. The first enrollment opportunity is anticipated to be announced next year.

Contributing partners include: MDC, MFA Incorporated, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, Bayer U.S., Missouri Rural Water Association, The Nature Conservancy, Missouri River Bird Observatory, Associated Electric Cooperative, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Fertilizer Institute.

Sand Prairie Restoration Partnership Program

NRCS is awarding Missouri $1,415,584 to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners to restore and protect 500 acres of sand prairies through the Sand Prairie Restoration Partnership Program (SPRP). The project will target the enrollment of 500 acres of remaining sand prairie communities and restorable land and place it into perpetual easements, providing permanent protection to this critical habitat and the flora and fauna it supports.

“The easement acquisitions funded through the SPRP will protect and enhance existing remnant sand prairies and restore converted sand prairies,” said Potter. “This restoration will greatly benefit many native wildlife species, such as bobwhite quail, one of Missouri’s most iconic species. The project will also provide essential habitat to grassland songbirds, such as rough-winged swallows, bluebirds, savanna sparrows, dickcissels, and meadowlarks, as well as help native bees and pollinators that are in decline.”

MDC says the SPRP will protect shallow aquifers from contamination by urban runoff, agricultural fertilizers, and pesticides. The dry nature of these habitats, as well as their flat quality, create fields exceptionally prone to wind erosion when the native vegetation is removed and replaced with row crop agriculture. By placing the prairies under easement, soil erosion will be avoided where wildlife habitat and water quality will be protected in the future.

Sand prairies are listed as Critically Endangered within the Missouri State Wildlife Action Plan and are among the rarest natural communities in the state. The area selected for this project include the following seven counties: Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Dunklin, Stoddard, and Butler.

Contributing partners of the SPRP include MDC, Ducks Unlimited, Missouri Prairie Foundation, Missouri River Bird Observatory, Quail Forever, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The funding amount is for five years with the first enrollment opportunity anticipated to be announced next year.

Landowners who qualify to participate in this project are encouraged to contact their local MDC Private Land Conservationist for more information.

To learn more about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, visit the RCPP website.