August 22, 2021

Conservation Reserve Program Provides Farmers and Ranchers with a Sense of Resiliency in the Face of Severe Drought


Why It Matters: Often mistakenly and trivially referred to as a land retirement program, CRP can be a beneficial part of a working agricultural system. Perhaps no situation highlights this better than the program’s emergency haying and grazing provisions. During times of severe drought or after other natural disasters, enrolled landowners may be permitted to harvest hay or graze enrolled acres as a supplemental forage source for their livestock. These provisions represent added resiliency for enrolled landowners who might otherwise be facing limited forage options due to adverse conditions. While emergency haying and grazing might temporarily lower habitat quality for species inhabiting a tract of CRP, the safety net provided by these provisions represent another reason that landowners should consider participating in a program that can provide critical wildlife habitat, thereby improving opportunities for sportsmen and women, on private lands throughout the nation.

While many Americans naturally view severe droughts as a major problem, there is perhaps no demographic more impacted than our nation’s agricultural producers. Unfortunately, those impacts are currently looming large over many producers across the country, particularly in most of our nation’s western states. With little reprieve in sight, farmers and ranchers are beginning to turn to alternative sources of forage for their livestock. While problematic, this gives one of the nation’s largest and most successful private lands conservation programs another chance to shine.

The voluntary Conservation Reserve Program is often referred to by some as a “land retirement” program, a perspective that stems from the transition of lands enrolled in the program from commodity crop production to alternative, conservation-focused services. While warmly regarded by many in the sporting conservation community for the benefits the program provides for our nation’s wildlife resources, the current situation across much of the United States serves as a reminder that CRP can act as an emergency safety net for working farms and ranches as well.

Right now, more than 1,100 counties (nearly 36% of counties in the U.S.) are eligible for CRP’s emergency haying and grazing provisions. For landowners enrolled in the program, this means that they can use their enrolled CRP acres as a source of additional forage for their livestock. Likewise, those with a surplus of forage are permitted to sell hay and grant grazing access to other farmers and ranchers in need of quality forage options. It is also worth noting that, if these practices are performed outside of the primary nesting season for grassland birds in the state, eligible CRP acres can be hayed or grazed with no payment penalty to the landowner.

Conservation programs such as CRP provide an invaluable opportunity for private landowners to voluntarily incorporate conservation considerations into their overall land management portfolio. In many cases, CRP provides an opportunity to diversify land use practices and promote increased resiliency in the face of challenges such as drought while, among other benefits, providing quality habitat for wildlife populations. For more information on CRP, contact your local Farm Services Agency (FSA) office, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Farm Bill Biologist, or other local contacts.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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