When the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was initially launched in the 1985 Farm Bill its goals were primarily soil erosion control and improved water quality. Over time, the program has created an unprecedented positive impact on habitat for many game and non-game species here in South Dakota.
Statewide, there has been a significant drop in CRP acre renewals over the last 2 years, with many producers opting out of contract extensions in favor of converting marginal CRP lands back to row crops. In 2013, roughly 128,000 acres of CRP will expire in SD (22,000 west river, 106,000 east river; Figure 1). It is projected that at least a portion of these acres will be re-enrolled in the program. On remaining acres, landowners will have to make a decision on retaining the CRP as grass cover or converting the land back to crops.
Figure 1: South Dakota 2013 CRP Expiration Acres by County.
The 2012 drought negatively impacted rangeland production across South Dakota, and the most recent NRCS model predicted that a significant portion of central South Dakota may still only produce about 80% of normal production. These circumstances, coupled with grassland conversion, have impacted pasture rental and cash purchase rates as producers attempt to secure additional grazing acres.
Utilizing expiring CRP for grazing may prove to be a beneficial option for grazing operators, landowners (including absentee landowners), and wildlife if the correct approach and relationships are developed. If livestock producers can connect with CRP owners, conversion of these grasslands to grazing/hay use may be quite feasible depending on CRP landowner interests and values. Without understanding the grazing alternative, CRP landowners may gravitate back to crops simply out of convenience.
Currently, several agencies and organizations are willing to work with landowners to convert expiring CRP acres into haying and grazing management. SDSU Extension, NRCS, and Pheasants Forever all have grassland specialists on hand to assist landowners in the decision making process. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and SD Department of Game, Fish, and Parks offer excellent assistance options through their private lands programs.
These programs include assistance and/or cost share for:
- Fencing materials for rotational grazing (producer covers labor)
- Livestock and water development
- Wildlife habitat development
- Operational planning assistance
- Seeding enhancements