Carney: Conservation program helps Iowa farmers combat erosion

Carney: Conservation program helps Iowa farmers combat erosion

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The Conservation Reserve Program is the nation’s largest and most successful voluntary conservation program. Begun in 1986, CRP was an effort to help farmers prevent or control the severe soil erosion that was occurring on the country’s cropland. There were concerns that if nothing was done, soil erosion would reduce the nation’s long-term capability to produce food and fiber. Today the program helps to protect the nation’s soil, water, and wildlife resources. Iowa has 1.7 million acres enrolled in a variety of practices within CRP, has the most CRP contracts of any state, and has an average annual rental rate paid to landowners of $222 per acre.

The CRP program has two major parts: Continuous CRP and General CRP. Continuous CRP focuses on land that is environmentally sensitive. Contracts can be written at any time and usually have an Oct. 1 start date. There are many different CRP practices that can be installed to address specific conservation concerns. Continuous CRP practices are sometimes limited to a maximum amount of acres but are eligible for some incentive payments for establishment.

General CRP contracts are awarded through a competitive process where a landowner submits an offer, the United States Department of Agriculture determines eligibility, the offer is scored and ranked using an Environmental Benefits Index, and accepted offers are awarded a contract. These contracts are usually 10 years in duration and begin on Oct. 1. The current general signup period is now open until Feb. 28, 2020. The rental rate paid annually on new CRP contracts is set based on county soil types and whether the contract is a continuous or general signup. Fifty percent cost share is available for establishment of both types of CRP practices.

The 2018 Farm Bill, passed in 2019, set the national CRP acre cap at 27 million acres. In 2020, the cap is 24.5 million acres nationally; and there are currently 22 million acres enrolled. In Iowa, there are over 300,000 acres of CRP whose contracts expire in 2020, which motivates those who work in conservation to try to get those acres re-enrolled or to attract new acres to replace them.

For 2020, Troy Faust in the Cerro Gordo NRCS office is excited about two new practice rules that should help entice more acres into CRP. CP-42 pollinator plots can now be up to 10 acres each per tract of land; this should allow a landowner to address a problem area with this very beneficial practice. Also, a new practice is CP-43 Prairie Strips. Native grass and flower species can be planted in strips 30-120 feet wide to assist in slowing runoff water to control erosion. These strips can go about anywhere along waterways, terraces, filter strips, field borders, or headlands. Normal farming practices may be used in conjunction with the strips and equipment can turn around on them.

If you have concerns about erosion or water quality issues on your land, visit your local SWCD office and learn what practices are available to help. Please don’t use tillage to hide the problem, use CRP to fix it. Your land investment will be protected and your community will be enhanced. In Cerro Gordo County, the local SWCD office is located at 1415 South Monroe Ave., Mason City or call 641-424-4452.

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Dennis Carney is a Cerro Gordo Soil and Water District commissioner. The local office can be found at 1415 S. Monroe, Mason City. Online: cerrogordoswcd.org.

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