Prairie chicken program pays farmers cash rents to restore grassland
Flocks of prairie chickens, historic residents of grasslands, are being managed for expansion in north and southwest Missouri. But they need more room to roam.
Farmland owners in selected areas can help by setting aside CRP land for bird habitat and receive competitive land rental rates, said Joe Horner, University of Missouri Extension economist.
The new program allows crop producers to set aside their least productive fields or parts of fields.
"For farmers looking to reduce risks and secure 'direct deposit' profits from their worst acres, this is an excellent opportunity," Horner said. "In the current financial climate, some producers may need this program to reduce necessary lines of credit."
The increased rental payments for grassland bird habitat come from the USDA Farm Service Agency with added incentives from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Sign-ups are now open.
"Conservationists realized they must be competitive at today's rental rates," Horner said. "Payment rates available in eligible counties are comparable to those reported in the MU 2008 Cash Rental Rate Survey."
There are restrictions on eligibility. First, the program is limited to specific areas in 11 counties where prairie chickens are being encouraged. The contracts run for 15 years.
Counties with eligible areas are Adair, Benton, Barton, Dade, Harrison, Jasper, Lawrence, Pettis, St. Clair, Sullivan and Vernon. Details on the program are available from USDA offices or MDC personnel in those counties. At the state level, contact Max Alleger, MDC private land conservationist at Clinton, Mo., at 660-885-8179, ext. 247.
Producers must enroll a minimum of 20 acres of upland. Bottomland is not eligible. Landowners can designate whole fields or portions of fields.
Producers who participate in the Conservation Reserve Program will be familiar with the general rules, Horner said. However, there are added incentives to this program, known as CP38, tailored to Missouri conditions for birds.
"The program helps not only prairie chickens but also quail and other grassland birds," Alleger said.
In addition to annual cash rental, landowners can receive cost-share payments for grass establishment. Seed mixes can include approved cool-season grasses and legumes. Mixes also can be for native prairie restoration plantings.
Participants receive 90 percent of establishment costs and a $100 sign-up bonus from USDA. MDC will add a one-time bonus of $50 per acre for cool-season grass-and-legume mixes or $75 per acre for prairie plantings on the first 2,000 acres enrolled.
"When combined, the FSA cost-share and MDC bonus reduce out-of-pocket costs for seed," Horner said.
In some ways, management rules are more flexible than traditional CRP lands. Participants must graze or high-mow one-third of their enrolled land each year. "Conservationists now recognize that grazing is beneficial for prairie chickens that need open ground for nesting and raising chicks," Horner said.
Any trees over 10 feet tall must be cut as part of the grassland management plan. However, non-USDA cost-share money may be available for clearing tree-lined fence rows.
"The program provides benefits for prairie chickens, quail and landowners," Horner said.
An added benefit can be hearing the boom of the prairie chickens during mating season each spring.