Landowners urged to consider ways to improve their Environmental Benefits Index
PRATT — The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides an opportunity for landowners to participate in a cost-effective, voluntary program to improve their land, water, and wildlife resources. Kansas currently has approximately 2.7 million acres enrolled under the general sign-up, but those acres are rapidly expiring. On Oct. 1, 2009, 331,000 acres quietly expired. This year, contracts for an additional 613,000 acres will expire. Thousands of acres have already been returned to crop production, impacting the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ popular Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) program.

“Statewide enrollment in 2010 fall WIHA is down from last year by approximately 20,000 acres,” according to Jake George, KDWP private lands coordinator. “A great deal of the property removed from WIHA, especially in western Kansas, is due to expired CRP properties that are no longer in grass.”

The good news for Kansas producers, and sportsmen, is that a CRP sign-up is currently under way to enroll 4.4 million acres back into the program. “This sign-up, the first since 2006, is expected to be highly competitive,” says Matt Smith, KDWP Farm Bill coordinator. “Producers should consider all options available to increase the likelihood that their offer will be accepted.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will continue to rank all eligible offers using the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). The EBI is based on the environmental benefits that would potentially accrue if the land were enrolled in CRP and comprises six EBI factors — N1 through N6. Each factor also has associated sub-factors. The decisions a producer makes during signup can greatly influence the score the offer receives. Knowing how to “bid to win” can significantly enhance the offer’s potential for acceptance.

Subfactor N1a — Wildlife Habitat Cover Benefits
The most critical decision producers will make is selection of wildlife habitat cover the producer is willing to establish. USDA awards higher point scores for cover types that are more beneficial to wildlife. Native mixes of diverse species receive the highest point scores. Producers in Kansas have several Cover Practices (CPs) to choose from to obtain the maximum points (50) in this subfactor. CP2, CP10, CP4D, and CP25 all receive the highest points for N1a, but depending on where the offer is located, certain CPs will receive higher points in other factors.

Subfactor N1b — Wildlife Enhancement
This subfactor provides up to 20 points for actions producers take to enhance wildlife benefits for the offered acreage beyond the cover type established. If water is a limiting factor, producers can offer to develop a wildlife watering device, commonly called a guzzler, to receive the maximum points for this subfactor. If water is already available, producers have the option of developing habitat for pollinators on part of the offered acreage. Flowering plants are an important component for pollinating species like honeybees, butterflies and beetles. Those same plants are also critically important to young pheasants and quail. Producers can also elect to establish food plots on their offered acreage although this enhancement only receives five total points.

Subfactor N1c — Wildlife Priority Zones
These zones, developed with input from state natural resource agencies, are high-priority wildlife areas that would benefit from CRP enrollment. Offers located within these defined geographic areas, based on local watersheds, are awarded points for choosing cover mixes that benefit wildlife. For an offer that lies within one of these zones to receive the maximum 30 points for this subfactor, a producer in Kansas must choose either CP4D or CP25. All other Cover Practices will receive zero points for this subfactor.

N2 and N3 — Water Quality Benefits and Erosion Factors
When possible, producers should only offer the most environmentally sensitive land. Land offered that is less productive, prone to erosion and includes areas where maintaining compliance is difficult can substantially increase the point score for erosion and improve the water quality score.

N4 — Enduring Benefits Factor
N4 is an evaluation of the likelihood for certain practices to remain in place beyond the CRP contract period. CP25 is the only practice in Kansas that will receive 25 points for this factor.

N5 — Wind Erosion, Air Quality and Carbon Sequestration
Once again, CP25 receives the highest points (5) in Kansas for storing carbon.

N6 — Cost
If producers are willing to accept a lower payment rate than the maximum amount USDA is willing to offer, they could receive up to 25 points. To achieve the maximum number of points for this factor, a producer must offer 15 percent less than the maximum payment rate.

It should be clear for those Kansas producers who wish to make their bid the most competitive, CP25 is the practice they should consider, but all factors need careful consideration. For many producers, an important consideration is the allowed use and management requirements of the CRP practice once approved. CP25 cannot be hayed or grazed during the life of the contract (10-15 years). CP25 also requires a maintenance prescribed burn during the life of the contract, in addition to a required mid-contract management practice.

CP2, CP4D and CP10 (10-year contracts) can all be hayed or grazed according to regulations and do not require a burn although burning is one of the several optional required management practices. If grazing and haying are important parts of a producer’s operation, then CP4D is the better choice, especially if their land falls within a Wildlife Priority Zone.

KDWP wildlife biologists can help producers find a CRP practice and planting mix that will increase the odds their offer will be accepted and match management goals for wildlife and erosion control. To contact your local biologist go online to