The Importance of CRP

February 15, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

An example of a quality CRP project

An example of a quality CRP project

In 2002, for the first time since the 1950s, North Dakota hunters bagged more than 500,000 pheasants. While 2003 statistics are not yet complete, based on anecdotal reports, it is possible the pheasant harvest for last fall will again top a half-million birds.

If that happens, it will be the only time since 1945-46 that hunters took so many roosters two years in a row.

A couple of factors are at work here. One is recent mild winter weather. The other is the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program. The Conservation Reserve Program is a provision included in several national farm bills that pays crop producers to idle land that was previously farmed.

The first CRP began nearly 20 years ago, in the mid-1980s. It was originally designed to reduce erosion on highly-erodible cropland, and reduce grain surpluses so commodity prices would increase.

Over time, North Dakota landowners put 3.3 million acres into the CRP. That’s 3 million acres previously planted to wheat, barley or other grains that was planted to grass and left idle for a minimum of 10 years. All that extra grass, typically left to grow all year and only occasionally hayed or grazed, is ideal nesting and brood-rearing cover for pheasants.

While winters still limit the state’s overall pheasant population, CRP grasslands increase carrying capacity. Pheasants can recover more quickly because the landscape has better habitat. When winters are mild, as they have been in parts of the state the past several years, the pheasant population can build to higher peaks.

Consider this: North Dakota had several relatively mild winters in the early 1980s. Without CRP or any other long-term land idling program, the pheasant harvest increased from about 60,000 in 1979, following two severe winters, to 141,000 in 1984.

With CRP, hunters bagged about 136,000 roosters in 1997 following the worst winter in three decades. Since then, annual harvest has gradually increased to more than a half-million.

Without CRP – 60,000 to 141,000 in five years. With CRP – 136,000 to 517,000 in five years.

Deer populations rely on CRP as well

Deer populations rely on CRP as well

And that’s just for pheasants. Grasslands restored under the CRP are an important contributing factor to North Dakota’s current record deer population, and recent record breeding duck numbers. I could roll out supporting statistics for these phenomena as well, but there comes a point when too many big numbers start to cause big headaches for those attempting to draw attention.

So I’ll try this. In September 2007 – a little more than 3 years from now – more than half of North Dakota’s CRP contracts – 1.7 million acres – will expire. On the surface, this may not seem like such a big deal because past farm bills have continued the program so many landowners were just able to extend their expiring contracts for another 10 years.

To assume this will again be the case is a precarious stance. While landowner interest in North Dakota remains high, over the past year some counties had contract acceptance rates that barely broke 10 percent. In other words, only 10 percent of landowners who wanted to enroll land in CRP actually got in.

In North Dakota circles, this is cause for concern. While the most recent farm bill includes provisions to generally maintain the amount of CRP nationwide, there is apparent pressure from some other states to redistribute CRP acres. Since North Dakota trails only to Texas and Montana in the number of CRP acres, it is an obvious target.

Because we have had CRP for so long, we may have fallen into the trap of taking it for granted. Groups such as Pheasants Forever or Ducks Unlimited frequently and rightly remind us of the CRP’s importance. Consequently, the rank and file, myself included, tend to pin their hopes on these organizations and think a yearly membership and banquet contribution is doing their part.

This is important, but at times we need to, as Emeril Lagasse would say, “Kick it up a notch.”

My point is simple. If we take the future of CRP for granted, we may end up left out in the cold along with our pheasants. CRP enrollment is voluntary and competitive. Just because a landowner is interested, we can’t assume his or her contract offer will meet the criteria. And if future farm bills do not provide funding for new CRP contracts, landowner interest would be a moot point.

The Conservation Reserve Program provides habitat for many wildlife species, not just those that are hunted. It has reduced soil erosion and helped improve water quality.

Even though 2007 is a few years away, now is the time to let local, regional and national decision makers know you are concerned. Large organizations will do the same, but in situations like this, with so much at stake, every voice for CRP counts


2 Comments on "The Importance of CRP"

  1. Eric on Sat, 13th Mar 2010 8:35 pm 

    The reserve programs do more than protect habitat for wildlife (although that’s certainly important), they also protect natural sources of drinking water for families downstream. I hope the CRP doesn’t take too big a budget hit in the current recession.

  2. Roger Hoffman on Thu, 21st Oct 2010 7:27 am 

    Where do the CPR funds come from? How about a break down and canyou hunt on CPR land or can the farmer post it?

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