South Dakota sees ‘dismal’ CRP general signup

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Farm Forum

South Dakota landowners were able to enroll a grand total of 101 new acres of land into the Conservation Reserve Program this year.

There were 727 offers made to the USDA program during this year’s general signup. Those offers represented a total of 42,352 acres landowners were volunteering to plant back to grass and other native plants in return for modest payments. A total of two offers were accepted.

“It’s just frick’n unbelievable,” said Dave Nomsen who heads the Pheasants Forever South Dakota regional office.

The USDA announced the end of the CRP general signup period May 5 in a news release. The department touted this year’s general signup, the 49th such signup period, as the most competitive in the program’s 30-year history.

More than 26,000 offers to enroll more than 1.8 million acres were received nationwide, the USDA release said. But because CRP acres were capped at 24 million in the 2014 Farm Bill, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which oversees CRP, could accept only 411,000 new acres into the program during the general signup.

The reason CRP general signup is so important is that the acres enrolled generally are in large tracts, said Travis Runia senior upland game biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. Tracts of up to 160 acres in some cases can be enrolled, he said. The grass in those tracts of land is usually left untouched for years at a time.

Such large pieces of largely undisturbed grassland give pheasants, grouse, several species of duck, songbirds of many varieties and even young deer their best chance to avoid predators, Runia said.

“Nest success is really high when they can select for the middle of those large tracts,” he said.

Nomsen said the CRP land enrolled during general signup is important to the hunting industry too.

“These are also the huntable blocks of grass that everyone thinks of when they think of South Dakota Pheasant Hunting,” Nomsen said.

In a Pheasant’s Forever news release responding to the news that South Dakota enrolled less than one percent of the acres the state’s landowners offered to the program, Nomsen called the small enrollment numbers an “insult to the state.”

“It wasn’t good news for us in a lot of ways,” Nomsen told the Capital Journal on May 12.

The CRP program has a direct effect on the number of pheasants on the South Dakota landscape, Runia said. In 2007 when the state’s landowners had 1.5 million acres enrolled in CRP, the state saw its highest pheasant population since the early 1960s when the soil bank was put in place.

“When we think about CRP it’s the most important factor in the long-term pheasant population,” Runia said. “When you see a dismal sign up like this it’s worrying.”

He said South Dakota could lose as much as 200,000 more CRP acres over the next two years. Right now, there are about 954,000 acres in CRP, Runia said, a far cry from 2007’s total, he said.

“We’re on pace to have half the CRP acres that we did in 2007,” Runia said.

There won’t be much of an immediate effect to this year’s general signup, Runia said, the loss of habitat will take a few years to become evident in lower bird numbers.

Nomsen said he’ll be contacting South Dakota’s congressional delegation about increasing the cap on CRP in the next Farm Bill. That bill won’t be negotiated until 2018.