USDA announces conservation programs that will benefit South Dakota

Farm Forum

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) applauded the recent announcements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the sign-up process will soon begin for a new Conservation Reserve Program-Grasslands (CRP-Grasslands) initiative authorized by the 2014 farm bill, and that an additional 21,000 acres are now available for South Dakota’s State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative.

“I’m glad that the sign-up process will soon begin for a new CRP-Grasslands initiative that will provide an incentive to keep more of South Dakota’s grasslands intact,” said Thune. “One of the greatest concerns of our state’s grazing livestock producers is the declining availability of grassland. This new program that I worked to include in the 2014 farm bill will not only provide incentives to preserve grassland, but with the 50 percent cost-share for establishing approved practices, it will also help improve existing pastures and hay land.”

Sign-up for the CRP-Grasslands initiative is expected to begin September 1, 2015. This initiative helps landowners protect grassland and rangeland, while also maintaining them as grazing lands. Participants may also produce or harvest hay for seed production, subject to restrictions during the nesting season of certain bird species. Annual rental payments under CRP-Grasslands may be up to 75 percent of the value of the grazing land covered by the agreement.

Thune’s sodsaver provision, a separate initiative to preserve native sod in the Prairie Pothole Region that is currently being administered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency, was also included in the 2014 Farm bill.

“I was also pleased to hear that Secretary Vilsack responded to my request for additional SAFE acres,” Thune continued. “SAFE has been a popular CRP initiative, with more than 100,000 acres enrolled in South Dakota. South Dakota needs at least one million acres enrolled in CRP in order to sustain a thriving pheasant population, and the increased availability of the popular SAFE CRP acres will provide important conservation benefits and boost our state’s economy.”

Earlier this month, Thune sent a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack requesting an increase in SAFE acres for South Dakota.

The goal of South Dakota’s Pheasant SAFE is to enroll a total of 94,500 in CRP to provide block acreages in the form of nesting, brood-rearing, winter-roosting, and escape cover for ring-necked pheasants and other upland birds. The goal of the South Dakota Western SD Grassland Habitat SAFE project is to enroll 40,800 acres of habitat critical to declining grassland birds native to Western South Dakota. Targeted species include the sharp-tailed grouse, upland nesting waterfowl, and other birds.