Thursday, August 5, 2010

Conservation Reserve Program Offers Pollinator Habitat Incentives

New rules passed by the USDA now offer incentives for the establishment of pollinator habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The limited time program sign-up, which opens today to new enrollments, provides one of the largest pollinator conservation opportunities ever in the United States.

The CRP program, first established in 1985, is the largest private landowner conservation effort in the United States with up to 32 million acres eligible for enrollment through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Program participants take highly erodible land out of crop production, and establish permanent vegetation to protect topsoil and provide wildlife cover. Contracts which run 10 to 15 years provide annual rental payments on enrolled land, and cost-share assistance for establishing vegetative cover.

New rules which are now  in effect offer priority ranking for land enrollments that include pollinator-friendly wildflowers and shrubs.

Under the current CRP enrollment system, landowners who want to participate are ranked to prioritize enrollments that offer the most conservation benefits. To receive a higher score on the pollinator ranking criteria, participating farmers must plant at least 10% of the CRP acres in wildflower parcels (or at least one acre for CRP enrollments less than 10 acres in size).

The addition of a pollinator habitat incentive for CRP has been promoted by numerous wildlife and pollinator conservation groups in recent years, and the new ranking system now offers one of the largest potential habitat creation opportunities of its kind ever for native bees, butterflies, and managed honey bees, all of which have experienced significant decline in recent years due to habitat loss and other factors.

In developing the new CRP technical requirements, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) worked closely with Dr. Marla Spivak, a leading honey bee researcher based at the University of Minnesota, and the California-based advocacy group, Partners for Sustainable Pollination. Now, as the enrollment period for new CRP contracts begins, the NRCS is working with the non-profit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to develop wildflower seeding recommendations for states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Oregon. Those recommendations will focus on selecting native wildflower species that are abundant pollen and nectar sources, and that are most likely to thrive in their respective regions.

Rural landowners who are interested in more information about CRP, including the current sign-up period which ends August 27th, should contact their local Farm Service Agency office.

CRP is a voluntary program that assists farmers and other agricultural producers to use their environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. As in past CRP general signups, eligible offers will be ranked using an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). This formula-driven system evaluates each tract of land according to its environmental values and challenges and how the landowner chooses to offer it into the program. The EBI consists of five environmental factors (wildlife, water, soil, air and enduring benefits) and cost.

A series of landowner educational meetings will be hosted by Quail Forever, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the USDA FSA to provide information on wildlife habitat considerations that can be implemented. There is no charge for participating and there is no need to register. Each session will begin at 7:00 pm. More information and directions can be found online on the Missouri Quail Forever website.

Meetings locations and dates are:

• Columbia, University of Missouri Bradford Research and Extension Center, Aug. 9

• St. Louis, Powder Valley Nature Center, Aug. 10

• Kirksville, MDC Northeast Regional Office, Aug. 11

• Cameron, Cameron Community Building, Aug. 12

• Cass County, location to be determined (see website), Aug. 13

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