July 17, 2003

Sign Up Under Way for New Grassland Reserve Program

COLUMBIA, MO - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made $1.5 million available in Missouri for the initial sign up for the new Grassland Reserve Program (GRP). USDA advises owners of grassland in Missouri to contact their local USDA service centers, and sign up by August 1 if they wish to be considered for this first allotment of funds.

In Missouri, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) are working together to rank applications. To participate in the GRP, applicants must own at least 40 contiguous acres of grassland. They may request annual payments based on an already established per-acre rate covering 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The rates range from $8.50 to $16.50 per acre, depending upon the county in which the land is located.

Darlene Johnson, Missouri's NRCS Grassland Reserve Program manager, says applications for the program will be accepted on a continuous basis. When funding has been exhausted, eligible applicants will remain on file until additional funding becomes available. However, she says only those applications received through August 1 will be included in the ranking process to award the first allotment of funds.

Johnson says the ranking process will award points to land deemed to have a greater risk of being converted from grassland to cropland or to other non-agricultural uses. The process also will consider the current grass stand's biodiversity for plants and animals, and management of the current grazing or hay operation. Applications will not be competing statewide. For this purpose, Missouri has been divided into five regions, each of which will have its own funding pool.

Landowners who have their GRP applications accepted will receive annual payments in exchange for their promise to keep the land as grassland. They may continue to graze the land or harvest hay and seed from the land, with a few exceptions: During the primary nesting season (May 1 through July 15) landowners may not cut hay from any warm-season-grass land in GRP, and they must refrain from grazing livestock on at least 25 percent of the warm-season-grass land in GRP from May 1 to July 1. Landowners also may not cut hay or harvest seed from at least 25 percent of the enrolled cool-season-grass acres from May 1 through July 15.

Roger A. Hansen, NRCS state conservationist, says that when properly managed, grasslands can result in cleaner water supplies and healthier riparian areas. They also reduce the amount of sediment, caused by soil erosion, that loads into ponds, lakes and streams.

Grasslands are vital for the production of forage for livestock, and also provide food and habitat needed to maintain healthy wildlife populations. These lands also protect the soil from water and wind erosion. "Grassland and forest land offers more protection against soil erosion than any other land uses in Missouri," Hansen says.

In Missouri, soil erosion claims 1.3 tons of topsoil each year from every acre of grassland, compared with a soil-loss rate of 5.6 tons per acre for cultivated cropland.

Grassland is the United States' largest land use, covering 525 million acres. Missouri has 14.2 million acres of grassland, which comprises about 32 percent of the state.

For more information about the Grassland Reserve Program and other conservation programs, contact your local USDA service center, listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture, or online at http://offices.usda.gov/.

Information specific to GRP is available online at the website http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/grp/index.html.

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