A herd of cattle graze in field. Credit: USDA

NATIONAL SUSTAINABLE AG COALITION – In July 2020, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that it accepted around 1.2 million new acres into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands initiative. These acres were accepted from applications submitted between March 16 and May 15, 2020.

While other variations of CRP support conservation by removing land from cultivation for extended periods of time – up to 15 years – CRP’s Grasslands Program is unique in that it promotes the conservation of grassland by permitting its use as grazing land. Grazing and healthy grassland ecosystems can coexist, and, in many cases, enhance one another. Well-managed grazing, especially on lands covered with native grasses, can provide healthier habitat for wildlife and can minimize invasive species. Native grass ecosystems also attract insect-eating birds which can help keep pest populations that stress livestock under control.

Land Eligible for CRP Grasslands

The grassland enrollment prioritizes expiring CRP contracts, lands at risk of conversion or development, and grasslands important to wildlife and the local ecosystem. The full list of factors that FSA considers are the following:

  • Existence of expiring CRP land
  • Existing grassland
  • Existing multi-species cover and predominance of native species
  • Focus area determined by State Technical Committee
  • Applicant is a Beginning, Veteran, or Socially Disadvantaged Farmer
  • Existing Small Livestock Operation
  • Cost

Livestock operations can be put in place or continued when enrolled in CRP Grasslands on the condition that grassland resources are protected. This can include common grazing, haying, certain seed harvesting, controlled burns, and fire mitigation strategies.

CRP Grasslands was created in the 2014 Farm Bill and was developed further in the 2018 Farm Bill when NSAC advocated for a provision, with the help of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts to set aside no fewer than 2 million acres for CRP Grasslands. By October of 2020, with these new enrollments, the total amount of land under CRP Grasslands is expected to be 2.1 million acres. Because of this Farm Bill provision, this year’s signup period was able to exceed the last signup period  threefold (compared to 2016 enrollments).

As with traditional CRP, FSA pays rent for the acres enrolled in CRP Grasslands, though at 75% of the standard CRP rate. This is calculated on a county-by-county basis. FSA’s rental rates by county can be found here.

This new enrollment in CRP Grasslands is impressive and is proof that there is demand across the country for this program. The greatest demand for this program was in states with large amounts of grassland and range, with the top ten states for enrollment being in the Great Plains and Intermountain West.

The top ten states for CRP grassland enrollment for this period are:

  1. South Dakota: 377,774 acres
  2. Nebraska: 298,890 acres
  3. Montana: 174,314 acres
  4. Colorado: 89,726 acres
  5. Wyoming: 61,441 acres
  6. Kansas: 55,469 acres
  7. North Dakota: 37,373 acres
  8. Utah: 23,378 acres
  9. Oklahoma: 20,756 acres
  10. Idaho: 19,794 acres

Below is a table showing a list of states that were offered CRP grasslands acres. Most, but not all, states were offered acres in the program.

The offering of acres to a state does not automatically mean that number of acres will be enrolled in CRP Grasslands. Land operators must still apply for the program and meet the requirements. In fact, some states, such as Mississippi and New Jersey, did not have any land that was accepted into the program.

Acres Enrolled in CRP Grasslands by State

State Enrolled Acres Enrolled Acres as a Percentage of Acres Offered
Alabama 6,754 68%
Alaska 235 100%
Arkansas 238 79%
California 4,112 10%
Colorado 89,726 72%
Florida 588 71%
Georgia 6,385 48%
Hawai’i 4,170 42%
Idaho 19,794 44%
Illinois 747 21%
Indiana 148 12%
Iowa 472 10%
Kansas 55,469 72%
Kentucky 255 4%
Louisiana 189 37%
Maine 57 100%
Maryland 307 81%
Michigan 12,085 68%
Minnesota 6,335 76%
Mississippi 0 0%
Missouri 1,990 42%
Montana 174,314 74%
Nebraska 298,890 66%
Nevada 709 23%
New Jersey 0 0%
New Mexico 16,550 79%
New York 1,509 41%
North Carolina 1,039 41%
North Dakota 37,373 50%
Ohio 4,388 71%
Oklahoma 20,756 84%
Oregon 19,405 53%
Pennsylvania 348 48%
South Carolina 1,873 63%
South Dakota 377,774 79%
Tennessee 331 22%
Texas 13,330 76%
Utah 23,378 87%
Virginia 3,061 36%
Washington 9,872 67%
West Virginia 362 55%
Wisconsin 320 24%
Wyoming 61,441 71%
U.S. Total 1,277,078 68%

There continues to be great demand for working lands programs that incorporate conservation. We hope that these impressive signup figures encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture to maintain and strengthen programs such as CRP Grasslands that provide benefits to farmers and ranchers while also helping to conserve our lands and waters. Because of the long contract periods and the relatively recent implementation of CRP grasslands, we do not expect another signup period for several years. Please continue to monitor NSAC’s blogs page and communicate with your local FSA office about future opportunities to enroll.

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