Over A Million Acres in Texas Coming Off Conservation Reserve Program Contracts; Grassland Reserve Program May Help Restore Pastures and Ranges

Vol. 25, Issue 30, September 16, 2009 – PDF version

Jose G. Peña, Texas AgriLife Extension Economist-Management


Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts covering over a million acres in Texas are expiring by the end of September ’09.  While some landowners with CRP contracts on highly erodible land with the highest environmental benefit Index (EBI) score or with the highest potential for soil erosion, may receive an offer to roll-over contracts, the bulk of the contracts are terminating.  Part of these cuts were to reduce the CRP program to about 32 million acres in the U.S.  The new Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) may help restore pastures and ranges, especially after the continued devastation as a result of the drought which now extends for five years.

Most of the state’s expiring CRP contracts are located on the South Plains and Panhandle regions but there are a significant number of contracts expiring in south and southwest Texas.

Landowners with expiring contracts should contact the local field office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to review their conservation compliance plans before making decisions on the future use of their land.  If a landowner is going to bring CRP land back into crop production, the conservation plan developed for that land before it went into CRP will have to be implemented.  This could mean that if terraces or wind strips were required, these practices will be required as this CRP land returns to cropland.

Landowners with expiring CRP acres should also check with their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) to see if they have farm program base acres and program yields on that land, meaning that they have direct payments and potential counter cyclical payments.  Generally speaking, land in expiring CRP contracts will retain the base acres/yields the land had prior to entering the contract.  This may not apply if base acres were moved from the land going into CRP to other land that was still in crop production.

Grasslands Reserve Program

According to a recent news release by the FSA, the grasslands reserve program is a voluntary program that financially assists landowners with restoration and protection of grassland, rangeland, pastureland and other lands, and provides assistance for rehabilitating grasslands and conserving water resources.  The goal is to assist producers in conserving valuable grasslands and rangelands under a threat of conversion to non-agricultural use.

GRP applications may be filed for a permanent or semi-permanent easement or for a 10, 15 or 20 year rental agreements at any time.  Participants voluntarily limit future use of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices; produce hay; conduct fire rehabilitation; and construct firebreaks and fences.  In return, they will receive annual GRP lease rental rates of about 75 percent of the published grass lease value of the land (about $6-$9/acre for most land in south Texas).

GRP contracts and easements prohibit the production of crops (other than hay), fruit trees, and vineyards and any other activity that would disturb the surface of the land, except for appropriate land management activities included in a conservation plan.

For enrollment purposes, only landowners may submit applications for easements.  For rental

contracts, applicants must own or provide written evidence of control of the property for the duration of the rental contract.  All participants in GRP are required to implement a grazing management plan approved by the NRCS.  The easement or rental contract must grant USDA or its representatives a right of ingress and egress to the easement or rental contract area.  Easement participants are required to convey unencumbered title that is acceptable to the U.S. and provide consent or subordination agreements from each holder of a security or other interest in the land.

While any eligible land may apply for a GRP contract, for FY 2009, the primary focus of the GRP is the drought-stricken areas of central and southern Texas.  Highlights of criteria for the 78 officially declared drought stricken counties to participate in the CRP program include:

  • Must remove all cattle from proposed land within 30 days of contract acceptance.
  • NRCS will develop a conservation plan
  • Livestock exclusion will be required as long as the drought persists and for one full growing season.
  • Grazing will be allowed according to a planned grazing system developed by NRCS.
  • Rental agreements allow cost share-for grazing improvements through GRP and/or EQIP.
  • Grazing improvements can include cross fencing, stock tanks, wells for livestock water, brush management, range/pasture planting, and critical area planting.
  • Program sign-up period is continuous.

Other Cost Share Programs

The NRCS will have fact sheets on various cost share and other programs to assist landowners/operators, such as Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).

Appreciation is expressed to Dr. Jackie Smith, Extension Economist and Will Durham, NRCS, Uvalde, TX  for their contribution to review of this article.

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