by Troy Bishopp
Many New York farmers and landowners can get excited about gaining financial incentives and cost-share assistance through the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) this year. However, knowing a few “rules of the road” before you go to an FSA office to make an offer may lead to a better outcome, instead of frustration in not knowing the farm-centric practical details.
“We are excited to roll out our new and improved CRP General and Grasslands signups,” said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. “Bottom line, CRP now makes more financial sense for producers while also providing a bigger return on investment in terms of natural resource benefits. The General and Grasslands signups are part of a broader suite of tools available through CRP to integrate key conservation practices on our nation’s working lands.”
The Grasslands CRP is a program borne out of the 2018 Farm Bill. It’s a working lands, voluntary conservation program that contracts for 10 or 15 years to protect and maintain open grasslands, including pastureland and rangeland, while supporting grazing operations and plant and animal biodiversity against the threat of conversion or from development pressure and plows. According to Franklin/Clinton/Essex County FSA Executive Director Jennifer T. Bosley, “Grasslands CRP is a production practice that enables producers to graze and hay the land and employ maintenance practices that will enhance and maintain the viability of the grassland cover.”
The July 2021 fact sheet states, “FSA provides CRP participants with annual rental payments and cost-share assistance for fencing, livestock watering and other approved systems in return for conserving the grazing lands according to an NRCS or Technical Service Provider (TSP) developed Conservation Plan.” (You need a conservation or grazing plan to participate. FSA has appropriately provided some online guidance at fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/crp-grasslands/index so you know what considerations will be in play on the important “Signup 203 Ranking Factors.”)
The ranking form gives you an opportunity to create your own scenario and determine if this program is a good fit for you. The more points, the better the offer. “FSA will rank offers for Grasslands CRP using grassland ranking factors developed by the agency. Rankings are unique for each tract of land offered. FSA assigns each offer a point score based on the offer’s relative ranking factors, with each offer competing against all other offers. FSA determines offer acceptability based on the ranking results.” The seven categories of ranking factors are Current and Future Use; Beginning, Socially Disadvantaged, Veteran Farmers and Ranchers; Maximizing Grassland Preservation; Vegetative Cover; Environmental Factors; Small Scale Livestock Operation; and Cost.
Here’s a few highlights that most potential customers should be aware of when creating offers: You must have a grazing plan with a minimum of five paddocks to rotate livestock. Grazing practices will come with residual grass height restrictions. To qualify, you must have no more than 140 “ruminant-based’ animal units and 200 acres per farm maximum. Boundary fences are not eligible for cost-share assistance.
If you farm in Jefferson, Oneida, Montgomery, Washington, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Wyoming, Yates or Seneca counties, you are in a State Priority Grassland Zone and have mowing stipulations for nesting grassland birds, typically after Aug. 1.
The “threat of conversion” factor points are high for New York. Offered land with more than 5% tree canopy is ineligible. A hay-only operation may not qualify for the program.
The national minimum rental rate is $15/acre with a maximum of $51/acre plus a 5% Climate-Smart Practice Incentive. (If you make an offer below the maximum payment rate determined, you gain more ranking points.)
The sign-up period for Grasslands CRP in 2021 runs through Aug. 20. After the close of the Grasslands CRP signup, FSA will rank all eligible offers based on the total point score for that offer. The Secretary of Agriculture will then determine the minimum threshold for acceptable offers.
Since Grasslands CRP is a competitive signup, producers should consider all the ranking factors as well as the existing cover for the acreage offered. FSA also encourages producers to consult NRCS or authorized TSP regarding steps to take to maximize their offers ranking factor points to increase the likelihood that the offer will be accepted.
To find more information about NY Grasslands CRP, visit fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/New-York/index or contact your local FSA office. To locate the nearest FSA office or USDA Service Center, visit offices.usda.gov.