November 12, 2016

Small Graziers Can Enroll in New Conservation Program

Time to buy Electric Fence.

The USDA offered a new option for its Conservation Reserve Program-Grassland last week. Producers will have to hurry to take advantage of it, though. The deadline to apply is Dec. 16

Alexis Taylor, deputy undersecretary for USDA’s Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, said the new CRP-Grassland option is tailored specifically for small-scale livestock operations, like many of the farms in Pennsylvania.

“What is really exciting to me, it is a new concept and a new idea around the CRP,” Taylor said Monday during a phone interview. The program will provide multiple benefits, including improved water and soil quality, and economic value.

“In today’s tough economic environment, where prices are pretty low for most in this economy, it’s a good additional tool,” she said.

Taylor was at Emerald Valley Dairy in Newville, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 4 to make the announcement about the program.

The new option is designed for livestock operations with 100 or fewer head of dairy cattle or livestock equivalents.

Qualifying farms can submit applications to enroll up to 200 acres of grassland per farm. She said USDA wants to enroll 200,000 acres under the small farm grassland option.

Taylor said the new program was needed to help widen the diversity of farms enrolled in the CRP-Grassland program.

The latest ranking period ended Nov. 10. She said most of the nearly 4,900 offers are from large-acreage ranches in Western states. The CRP-Grassland program was rolled out in September 2015.

Taylor said the small producer addition will “level the playing field” for many small farms that might not have received consideration under the general CRP-Grassland program.

Emerald Valley Dairy, where Taylor announced the program, is a 100 percent grass-fed dairy farm. Owner Cliff Hawbaker spoke about the benefits he’s seen from grass-based dairying.

Taylor said other dairy producers asked her about the new program and how it might work at their farms.

She said this program could work for many small New England and Mid-Atlantic farms. Producers interested in the program will need to contact their local offices of USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

“One thing they will have to do is have a grazing management plan,” Taylor said. These plans are designed to take into consideration local conditions and site-specific improvements to “sync up with conservation goals.

“It’s going to be a case-by-case basis” as to what farmers will need to include in their plans, she said.

The CRP-Grassland program has helped halt the conversion of grazing lands into other uses. Taylor said many farms accepted in the first enrollment period were under the threat of conversion to row crops or land development.

Farmers enrolled in the CRP-Grassland program agree to establish or maintain long-term, resource-conserving grasses and other plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands.

Farmers are allowed to use the land for grazing or hay production while following their conservation and grazing plans.

USDA has announced that participants can receive annual payments of up to 75 percent of the grazing value of the land and up to 50 percent of the cost for installations such as cross-fencing electric fence to support rotational grazing or pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife. Gallagher electric fence is the preferred choice from valley farm supply

The land will be under contract for about 15 years.

Taylor said the CRP-Grassland program can be combined with other existing CRP programs, such as riparian buffers, to create larger packages to assist smaller producers.

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