Time to take a closer look at Grassland Conservation Reserve Program as sign-up opens with important changes

Sign-up runs through May 26th, 2023.

Denver – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday announced the sign-up period for the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program, which will run from April 17 to May 26. While many farmers and ranchers have heard of the general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (Grassland CRP) works differently, and the 2023 sign up announcement includes some important changes. [learn more about Grassland CRP]

Unlike general CRP, Grassland CRP is not a land retirement or fallowing program. Ranchers can continue to graze, seed and hay land enrolled in the program. The program is administered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and provides ranchers with yearly payments for sustaining wildlife habitat on grasslands while allowing livestock production activities to continue. 

“Landowners play an important role in maintaining wildlife habitat,” said Shaleas Harrison, Wyoming resource coordinator with Western Landowners Alliance, a landowner group whose mission is to support working lands, connected landscapes and native species, “and Grassland CRP can provide some economic support for the good work people are already doing.” 

Land located within Grassland CRP National Priority Zones is eligible to receive an additional $5 per acre. Applications are also welcome from landowners outside those priority zones. 

Andrea James, rancher outside of Danille, WY, purchased her family’s ranch in 2021 and worked closely with the NRCS and FSA to enroll portions of the ranch in Grassland CRP last fall. She enrolled two different pieces of land in 10-year and 15-year contracts. The program is helping to offset some of the expenses, especially the farm loan. “This isn’t an all or nothing program, you can pick and choose the land you want to enroll,” James said. “And I could say no at any point in the application process.”

The USDA also developed special guidance that allows better compatibility between USDA programs, enabling producers to combine Grassland CRP with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve range health. Land that is already enrolled in EQIP cost-share programs, for example wildlife-friendly fence conversion, invasive weed treatments, aspen regeneration, brush management, range planting, and wet meadow restoration, is eligible for enrollment in Grassland CRP. EQIP sign-ups will follow the GCRP sign up later this year.

“Grassland CRP is a tool for land stewardship that has grown in utility and popularity in the West in recent years,” said Zach Bodhane, policy director at Western Landowners Alliance. “This is thanks to changes in the 2018 Farm Bill, and implementation changes from USDA, including setting higher minimum payment rates, and expanding priority zones. All these changes mean the program likely deserves a closer look from producers during this sign up period.” 

Western Landowners Alliance has resource coordinators in several Western states who are available to answer questions, connect producers to their local Farm Service Agency staff, and support applications.

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