As another round of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) registration approaches, Jason Gritsch thinks Clinton County landowners are about to be presented with a golden opportunity.

“I see Clinton County as a county with a lot of opportunity to put in some new CRP acres,” Gritsch, a private lands wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said. “Simply because there is a lot of highly erodible land.”

Preventing erosion is the main objective of CRP, which has been active across the country since the early 1980s. In that time frame, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) estimates that millions of acres of topsoil have been saved from erosion, and millions of pounds of nitrogen annually are prevented from entering streams and rivers, thanks to CRP.

Steep hills, and land near bodies of water are ideal for CRP, Gritsch said, as they have the highest potential for erosion. Participants in the program are paid a per-acre rental rate for setting aside land for conservation purposes. Some CRP acres are used for growing broom grass, or prairie wildflowers and trees with strong root systems to promote soil integrity.

Reimbursement is determined through the use of a complicated formula that considers many factors, including soil type and quality, and potential benefits to local wildlife. Gritsch said this rate varies, but under the right conditions, a participant could expect significant earnings over a 10- to 15-year contract.

“In some instances, $170 to $200 an area is not out of the question for some of this highly erodible land,” Gritsch said.

Of course, even at the higher rental rate, CRP reimbursement would not be comparable to harvesting a good crop of corn, Gritsch said. But land that may not be ideal for farming, or produces lower yields, could be a perfect fit for CRP.

“I like to see farmers farm the really good land, and CRP the rest,” Gritsch said.

In addition to the soil and monetary benefits of participation in the program, air quality and hunting boons can be expected, according to Gritsch. Some CRP plants provide natural habitats for many different animals, including pheasants. And the FSA estimates that 50 million metric tons of Carbon is sequestered annually by CRP land.  

Darryl Waugh has participated in the CRP program on and off since the program’s inception. His family has owned farmland near Grand Mound since the Civil War area. Much of the land is hilly and highly erodible, making it a good fit for the program.

He said he’s happy to use the area, which is not ideal for farming, for the program. It keeps the streams free of sediments, he said, and it relieves him of the hassle of daily maintenence.

“I think this is a good use for it,” Waugh said. “If I had to do it over again, I would.”

Participation in the program has dwindled in recent years. By the end of Fiscal Year 2011, Clinton County had 11,143 acres of CRP land, down from around 30,000 in the mid-1990s. High crop prices, particularly that of corn, contribute to the decline, Gritsch believes. But he said plenty of opportunities remain to get involved.

Area landowners will have a chance to learn more about CRP, and how to participate at an informational meeting on March 15. Gritsch said that a powerpoint presentation will help attendees determine what land is best suited for the program.

Anyone interested in additional information about the program is invited to the 9:30 p.m. event, which will be held at Buzzy’s Tavern in Welton.

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