Purchase photos

Wildlife benefits can boost CRP offers

5/24/2013

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

There's a lot of numbers to throw around when talking about enrolling land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

But Ellis County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Greg Kerr said he could get someone in and enrolled in about 20 minutes, depending, of course, on how many questions the farmer had about the program.

There weren't many farmers or landowners at Wednesday's CRP informational meeting, but it's unclear if that reflects a lack of interest in the program or landowners are well aware of how it all works.

Besides, only about 900 acres of land already enrolled in the program will be coming out in Ellis County, a small part of the almost 25,000 acres currently enrolled.

"We would like to see that go back in and possibly a little more," he said.

CRP has been a huge benefit to Kansas wildlife, including pheasants and lesser prairie chickens. Adding wildlife benefits to the offer can boost the chances of land being accepted into the program.

Across Kansas, there's nearly 2.4 million acres in CRP, a number that's been falling as crop prices have climbed.

Over the past year, Kansas has lost nearly 150,000 acres from the program, as farmers let contracts covering the land expire.

Kerr is hopeful a boost in rental rates will help attract more land into the program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has boosted annual rental rates from $39 an acre a year ago to $53 an acre.

"We had a substantial increase in rental rates so I hope that increases interest substantially," he said.

Ness County's rental rate was boosted from $36 to $49 an acre.

Recent estimates by Kansas State University put average rental rates in Ellis County at $63 an acre, Kerr said.

"That was a little high in my view," he said.

Kansas Agricultural Statistics put the average rental rate for Ellis County at $39.50.

Kerr said there's a lot that can be done to enhance a landowner's chances of being accepted into the program, especially by boosting wildlife habitat.

Adding food plots or pollinator habitat to an offer can boost its chances of being accepted. Already, most offers get a boost because land in Ellis County is included in a priority area for wildlife, adding points to most practices, except the very basic offer that includes virtually no wildlife benefits.

Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist Mark Witecha championed the use of pollinator habitat because it provides habitat for insects, critical for the survival of young chicks.

It's also beneficial for quail chicks -- the "size of a bumblebee," he said -- because they are able to easily move about in the undergrowth.

"The wildflowers provide seed," Witecha said, "which are high in carbohydrates and are full of moisture. I call them a perennial food plots."

Kerr's also arguing CRP is similar to money in the bank because of the forage it holds in the event of a crisis, such as the current ongoing drought.

CRP, through either managed or emergency haying and grazing, has made available more than 844,000 acres of land for cattle producers.

Ellis County farmers baled hay on 4,367 acres of CRP and grazed another 3,577 acres.

* The enrollment period continues through June 14. Landowners can enroll through county FSA offices.