Wildlife will benefit from strong interest in federal program

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Kansas farmers joined their counterparts in Texas and Colorado to offer up the greatest amount of land for the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

That's good news for the beleaguered lesser prairie chicken, which relies heavily on the grasslands that result from land enrolled in CRP. In fact, areas of southwest and west-central Kansas were deemed priority areas because of the lesser prairie chicken, ensuring eligibility for all land offered into the program.

Farm Service Agency administrator Jonathan Coppess Tuesday announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture was accepting offers on 4.3 million acres of land nationwide for enrollment in CRP.

The Kansas offers that were accepted cover 618,905 acres, with an average rent of $38.92 an acre. Virtually all of the land offered by Kansas farmers was accepted.

That's only slightly more than the 615,000 Kansas acres that are coming out of the program at the end of the month and doesn't cover any of the almost 300,000 acres that expired last year.

Offers accepted from Texas farmers amounted to 858,436 while Colorado offers accepted covers 739,467 acres.

The enrollment comes just as a huge bloc of land -- 4.45 million acres -- currently in the program is about to expire.

If all of the 4.3 million is actually enrolled, a total of 31.2 million acres will be enrolled in the program -- slightly less than what was allowed under the terms of the 2008 federal farm bill.

The remaining unfilled amount will allow for ongoing enrollments, Coppess said in the teleconference announcing the results of the program enrollment, completed at the end of August.

Most of the contracts accepted will be for 10-year terms, Willis said, with a few that provide additional benefits for wildlife, lasting for 15 years.

Nationally, Willis said, the average rate for land accepted into the program will amount to $46.03, sharply lower than the $53 average in the last enrollment four years ago.

"I think we were very satisfied with participation out in the countryside," Copperas said.

Willis was also happy with the sheer number of offers involved for pollinator habitat -- a practice that was carved out in the farm bill that sought to increase habitat for bees, which had been suffering from colony collapse, a disease that is decimating many areas.

All told, about 57 percent of the land going out of the program will be re-enrolling, Willis said.

"That obviously varies by state," he said.