That grasses, referred to as “The Big

That very first AGproject.  Something I will alwaysremember. What was mine? It was a Native Range Display board that myAgricultural Education teacher had us do for our 8th grade classproject at the county fair. For my Native Range Display, my grandpa and I went to some of his pastures to retrievedifferent native grasses.

Until this time, I had not realized there were so many differentspecies growing naturally in Oklahoma instead ofbeing planted.Constructing thisgrass board is quite the process. It is amazing how much grass it takes to makea one-inch bundle, and also the mess it makes. During the two week period thatmy classmates and I worked on this project in the classroom, the shop was strewn with grass cuttings, seeds, and pieces of leftover stemsand leaves everywhere. The students who hadallergies were stuck with red eyes and runny noses for days.

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As witheverything, the first year was a learning process, and unfortunately, I didn’t do very well. Mygrass board placed fifth at the county fair and did not qualify for the TulsaState Fair.  However, the following year I did the projectagain and, much to my surprise, the grass board I entered at the county fair and theTulsa State Fair was awarded grand champion. I was pretty proud of myself whenI realized that at the Tulsa State Fair mycompetition included  at least thirty other boards. This projecttaught me that there are thirty-one varieties of native grasses.

The mostcommon native grasses, referred to as “The Big Four” include big bluestem,little bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass. As I visited with my grandpa, he told me the grasses we picked were from CRP land.”What is CRP?” I asked.   He informed me this would be a good projectfor me to research on my own. Honestly, I thinkhe just didn’t want to explain the whole process, but I followed his advice andbegan researching.

In 1963, due to ashortage of wheat caused by drought, the Soviet Union began importing grains,mainly wheat, from the United States. This caused wheat prices to spike in theUS. Farmers started tilling up more and more land to try and take advantage ofthe increasing prices. By doing this, farmproduction was excessively abundant, and the increased supply caused lower crop prices. Now the government was dealingwith the oversupply of crops. They did not want to experience another Dust Bowldue to the tillage of erodible soil. In 1985 the Farm Bill, which officiallyestablished the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP),was passed. The program was designed to give agriculturalists the opportunityto protect land from soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlifehabitats by planting cover crops.

        There are severaldifferent CRP programs available for landowners or farmers. CRP-1 is the contractagreement which includes practices like planting hardwood and softwood trees oreven wetland restoration. The most popular program in Garfield County is nativegrass, legume and forbs establishment, along with pollinator habitats and wildlifehabitats. A landowner could also create grassed waterways, plant windbreaks andgrass filters or even plant vegetation to help reduce salinity. The CRP-1contract period lasts 10-15 years. In a contract,the owner can share 50% of the start-up cost of a program with the Farm ServiceAgency.

After establishinga CRP practice, the owner can be paid in several different ways, either by an annual rentalpayment, the Signing Incentive Payment, or the Performance Incentive Payment.The annual rental payment is based on rental rate of the productivity of thesoil within each county and the average dryland cash rent from data provided bythe National Agricultural Statistical Service. The Signing Incentive Payment,or SIP, is a one-time payment of $10 per enrolled acre for each year ofcontract for those who enroll in any practices like filter strips or duckhabitats. The Performance Incentive Payment, or PIP, is also a one-time paymentfor those who enroll land that is devoted to all continuous sign-up practices,with the exception of some lands. A PIP payment is equal to 40% of theinstallation cost of the practices.

The most a person could receive from a CRPcontract is $50,000 per year.             TheFarm Service Agency created a specific eligibility criterion. According to the CRPguidelines, a producer must have owned or operated the land for at least twelvemonths prior to the close of the CRP sign-up period, unless there have beencertain ownership changes like foreclosure or death of the previous owner. Theland must have environmental risk, been recently farmed or grazed, and must havecompetitive enrollment. It must be cropland that has been planted to anagricultural commodity, like wheat, sorghum, or corn for four of the previoussix crop years and have no easements or other legally binding restrictions. Togo along with the guideline requirements the cropland must also meet one of thefollowing criteria: Have a weight average erosion index of eight or higher, beenrolled in a CRP contract that expires September 30th or be locatedin a national or state CRP priority area. The FSA also created the EnvironmentBenefit Index, also known as the EBI, to determine the environmental benefitsfor the land offered.

They evaluate how erodible the land is, and if it contributesto improving wildlife habitat or water and air quality.Today, with the drop in crop prices,people are becoming more interested in enrolling acres into CRP. The CRPprogram has a 24 million-acre cap, and, as ofOctober, there were 23.5 million acres enrolled.As of last spring, the Oklahoma Panhandle alone had over 300,000 acres enrolledin the Conservation Reserve Program.

With the growing demand, there is notenough room to enroll. With this situation,policymakers are facing major challenges. Many agricultural groups haveinterest in expanding the program, but with the rental rates being an averageof $75 per acre nationally, many wonder how theywould get the funding from an already struggling economy. An alternative choiceis to encourage less general enrollment and to create more room for the higherpriority and more susceptible land.

In Garfield County,at the September sign-up date, forty-two landowners applied to the CRP programand of those only two were accepted. USDA has also recently announced an earlyexpiration option for land owners to withdraw some of the least environmentally-sensitiveland in CRP as a part of an initiative to encourage farmland transition to thenext generation of agricultural producers. With thecurrent Farm Bill ending in 2018, there are not yet any expected changesimpacting the FSA programs. However, landowners are encouraged to keep applyingto enter highly susceptible land into the CRP programs so conservation effortscan continue to be successful in needed areas.Since 1986, the Conservation Reserve Program has reducedmore than 8 billion tons of soil erosion, which is the equivalent ofapproximately 267 million large dump truck loads of soil. The importance of programslike the CRP need to be understood and pursued by landowners and farmers aliketo help practice sustainable farming and environmental care. Franklin DelanoRoosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself”.

Farmingfamilies, such as mine, realize the importance of our topsoil. Fertile topsoilproduces the nation’s food, fiber and fuel. It is left to today’s generation tobe responsible stewards of the land and to continue to protect, that preciousresource that provides life and a future.

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