Washington Evening Journal
http://washington-ia.villagesoup.com/p/1196022

Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 31, 2014

Guarding native habitat from loss

By Xiomara Levsen | Jun 10, 2014
Jason Gritsch measures the grass at a farm south of Washington used in the CRP program Friday morning. Switchgrass and big bluestem are some of the types of grasses planted on the CRP acres, which draws insects, helps with soil erosion, provides winter cover for game birds, and helps take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere

Farmers in Washington County can now sign up for a program to help conserve the game bird population in Iowa.
“The pheasant harvest in Iowa in 1996 was 1.3 million birds,” said Jason Gritsch, Private Lands Wildlife Technician for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “In 2012, the harvest had dropped to 158,000.”
Conservation Reserve Program is needed to help prevent further habitat loss and will help game bird populations continue to grow, Gritsch said. CRP provides a nesting place and brooding place for song and game birds, such as pheasants and quail in Iowa, Gritsch said.
“Insect-attracting plants are planted into these practices, which are good for the young chicks after they’re born, because basically their diet after they are born is insects,” he said. “Also, what you also have is winter cover. Some of the CRPs require switchgrass and big bluestem—those type of things, which provide good winter cover for upland game birds.”
The grasses planted also help with carbon sequestration, he said.
“This helps to take the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere so you have those benefits from the CRP,” Gritsch said. “The erosion control, the improved water quality, is another benefit of CRP.”
CRP has two different types available for farmers to sign up for, Gritsch said.
“There is the general CRP and the continuous CRP,” Gritsch said. “Continuous CRP is basically when there are eligible acres for certain practices, you can just go into your local office and sign up at any time. The general CRP sign-up, basically, you have to wait—like if you’re expiring, you have to wait for an extension or wait for a new general CRP sign-up to extend another 10 years on your contract.”
This sign up is only for the continuous CRP, Gritsch said. Iowa wasn’t able to offer landowners the option of signing up for general CRP because the farm bill wasn’t passed. It was shut down until the new farm bill was passed.
“Those people that have general CRP are going to be offered a one-year extension on their contract or they can opt for the continuous practice of CP 38—it’s called the SAFE program, or the Highly Erodible Land Index (HELI). The SAFE program has 45,000 remaining at this time and the HELI program has 16,000.”
There are a couple of requirements to qualify for CRP. The land must be privately owned and have a crop history of four years between 2008 and 2013 and landowners must have a minimum of 20 acres available for CRP—the maximum acres amount of acres allowed for the program is 160 acres. For the HELI part of the CRP program, landowners must have an erodible index of 20 or greater, and landowners can sign up for either 10 or 15 years, Gritsch said.
To sign up for a CRP, contact your local Farm Service Agency office, Gritsch said.
“They’ll have to fill out an application and should know within a couple of weeks if they’ve been selected,” he said.

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