‘Every little bit helps’: Nebraska farmers encouraged to spare some land for conservation
LINCOLN, Neb (KLKN) – The United States Department of Agriculture is working to get farmers, ranchers and landowners across the country to use some of their land for conservation.
The USDA Farm Service Agency says the Conservation Reserve Program is voluntary and allows anyone who enrolls to use their land for growing environmentally friendly species and in return, receive annual rental payments.
Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, an outreach coordinator with the agency, said farmers taking part in the program have a variety of options for grasses, trees and flowers to plant on their land.
“The contracts for the conservation reserve program run anywhere from 10 to 15 years,” Kriz-Wickham said. “So it’s a long-term commitment of those acres, moving them from crop production into these long-term resource-conserving practices on these acres.”
Those plants will help control erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife.
Kriz-Wickham also said there are crop share assistance programs to help pay for the seeds that will be planted.
Jenny Prenosil, the conservation ag coordinator for Pheasants Forever, says this is a good way for farmers to make use of their marginal or less productive croplands, and instead contribute to conservation.
“It puts just big chunks of habitat on the ground for pheasants, quail and other wildlife,” she said. “And there’s also a bunch of other secondary benefits such as water quality, groundwater if we’re working in wetlands situations, carbon sequestration.”
Prenosil said grassland birds have been declining over the past several decades and having more grassland in Nebraska would help them with nesting and raising their young.
“They’re one of the greatest groups of wildlife species in peril at this point in time,” she said. “So, restoring and putting grassland habitat out on the landscape is crucial. Something like a covey of quail only need about 5 acres which really isn’t that much, and when it comes to insects they don’t even need as much as that either. So every little bit helps.”
Pollinators like bees and butterflies also rely on the grasslands and flowers put into these conservation areas.
Prenosil said croplands nearby those areas will also benefit because of the natural insect and bird populations helping to remove pests.
She said it not only benefits farmers and their land, but helps to keep farms going through to the next generation.
“It keeps the younger generation of your farm wanting to come back,” she said. “If they go out there and they remember seeing a covey of quail or a white-tailed deer walking out of the grass dad used to have out there. They’re gonna want to come back and protect those areas and keep the family farm going instead of selling it to the next guy who maybe doesn’t have that connection.”
The agency said about 5 million acres were enrolled into the program last year, and they’re hoping to add enough this year to reach their goal of 27 million acres.
General sign-up for the program has already started and will last through April 7, and you can sign up at your local service center.
For the next several weeks, the agency will hold information sessions across Nebraska.
Nebraska FSA county office leaders will speak at the meetings, along with conservation organization representatives. They will discuss CRP practice options, land eligibility criteria and updated soil rental rates, among other information.
The meetings are free, and there is no registration required.