Contracts expiring in September may be extended with wildlife-friendly practices

PRATT -- Some landowners whose Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts expire in September can now extend their contracts, keeping the land in cover beneficial to wildlife, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency (FSA). Without this opportunity, a significant number of acres would likely be converted into crop production this fall due to favorable crop prices and the increasing interest in producing bio-fuels.

“A large scale loss of habitat provided by CRP could spell trouble for many grassland-dependant species that are already in decline” said Jake George, private land coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). “But just as important, CRP lands sequester significant green house gases and hold soil in place on some of the most erosive ground, protecting streams from sediment, agricultural chemicals, and excess nutrients.”

Landowners with general CRP contracts expiring Sept. 30 should have received a letter in May from their local FSA office indicating that they are eligible for a contract extension. These landowners should visit their local FSA office between May 18 and June 30 to apply for an extension.

Extensions will only be offered to landowners whose contracts have the highest environmental benefits index or erodibility index for soil erosion. In Kansas, FSA will offer extensions on about 28 percent of contracts -- approximately 118,416 of the existing acres under contract scheduled to expire this year. Generally, landowners who planted good wildlife mixes on highly erosive land will qualify for an option to extend their contracts. Extended contracts will be at the same rental rate they are currently receiving.

Contracts will be extended for three or 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.

In Kansas, approximately 306,000 CRP acres will expire this year without an offer to extend contracts. However, owners of those acres can enroll at least part of their fields in the continuous CRP with updated rental rates. Visit the local USDA office to sign up. Filter strips, contour grass strips, cross wind trap strips, wildlife field borders, and other buffer practices can be used to keep some areas in grass, providing important wildlife habitat and protecting water quality.

Landowners with an interest in wildlife should call 620-672-0760 for the name of a KDWP private lands biologist who can assist with developing a plan that will help ensure that wildlife benefits from these practices are maximized. Sign-up can be completed at any time, even before the contract expires this fall. Landowners should also be aware that if their CRP is enrolled in the Walk-In Hunting Program and they decide to return the land to crop production, they need to contact KDWP immediately.

Grass, trees, and shrubs that are planted under a CRP contract provide long-term protection to soil and water while adding wildlife habitat to the landscape. In return for these benefits, landowners receive annual rental payments, which help offset the cost of not raising crops on those acres. Many of these acres also provide public hunting access if they are enrolled into KDWP's Walk-In Hunting Program.