Some landowners whose Conservation Reserve Program contracts expire in September can now extend their contracts, keeping the land in grassland or woodland.
“That’s very good news for Iowa’s landowners, wildlife and water quality,” said Todd Bogen- schutz, DNR upland game biologist. “Without this opportunity, about 88,500 acres or nearly 140 square miles of mostly grassland would likely be converted into cropland this fall.
“That would be a travesty for Iowa’s grassland bird species – from the bobolink and prairie chicken, to pheasant and quail,” he said. “But just as important, CRP grassland and forests sequester significant green house gases; and hold soil in place on some of the most erosive ground, protecting lakes and streams from sediment, ag chemicals and excess nutrients.”
Landowners with general CRP contracts that expire Sept. 30, 2009, should receive a letter in May from the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA) that indicates if they are eligible for a con- tract extension. Eligible landowners should visit their local FSA office before June 30 to apply for an extension.
Extensions will only be offered to landowners whose contracts have the highest environ- mental benefits for soil erosion. In Iowa FSA will offer extensions on about 86 percent or 75,611 of the existing acres under contract. Generally landowners who planted good wildlife mixes on highly erosive land will qualify for an option to extend the contract. Extended con- tracts will be at the same rental rate they are currently receiving.
In Iowa, eligible contracts will be extended for five years. Landowners can choose to extend the entire acreage under contract or a portion of it. However, they cannot enroll additional acres and USDA will not hold a general CRP signup this year.
Visit your local FSA office to sign up. Or, call (515) 281-5918 for the name of a DNR private lands biologist who can help with plant material choices.
Continuous CRP may be an option for other landowners or those who do not receive an offer to extend their contracts. Check with your local FSA office for options and rental rates. Stream buffers and filter strips are examples of eligible practices. Sign-up deadlines will vary, depending on whether the land is currently under contract or not.
The grass, trees and shrubs that are planted under a CRP contract provide long-term protec- tion to soil and water while adding wildlife habitat to the landscape. In return for the societal benefits, landowners receive annual rental payments, which help offset the cost of not raising a crop on those acres.