It’s been a wet two years for the Arkansas agriculture community and the floods have producers looking at income alternatives for their flood-prone croplands. Farmers have lost income on hundreds of acres of crops due to record rains over the last few years.

The state’s farmers are finding they have a good selection of federal, state and private programs available to them to retire these regularly flooded croplands, receiving income payments or other incentives while at the same time restoring wildlife habitat. Many of these programs offer the financial support to retire and establish wildlife habitat on the farm to include cost-share assistance, yearly rental payments, a $100-per-acre signing incentive payment, a 40 percent practice incentive payment, easement payments and other financial incentives to assist farmers with land conversion.

A farm producer workshop will be held Feb. 23, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 204 S. Main (one block south of the court square) in Harrisburg, Ark., to provide specific program information that may prove helpful to many farmers. Lunch is provided but to plan the noon meal, farmers are requested to RSVP to Brandy Gardner at the County Conservation District office by Feb. 16 at (870) 578-2444, extension 3.

Financial assistance is available through programs like the Farm Service Agency’s Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetland Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentive Program and other state and private programs.

Many of these programs offer the producer a way out of farming acres that are prone to annual flooding and other weather-related or production-oriented problems.

“These programs can create wildlife habitat on the farm along and provide supplemental farm income from yearly conservation rental payments, easement payments, private organization tree payments, tax credits, and other incentives, and establish habitat conditions for future alternative incomes through leasing the hunting rights or provide recreational opportunities for farm families and friends,” said David Long, private lands coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC).

“With several years of crop losses due to spring-through-fall flooding from major rain events, there has been a groundswell of farmers going to their county NRCS or FSA offices to enroll either field edges or whole fields, primarily on these flood prone and/or marginally productive croplands.”

The programs are applicable to most row-crop farms where the producer wants to not only target marginally productive croplands, but improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Farmers can become educated on these programs by talking to their county FSA or NRCS office personnel or contacting an AGFC private lands biologist.

Long said that many cropland acres across the row crop counties in Arkansas are currently only marginally profitable for agriculture production or experience annual flooding. “These include crop fields that may also be drought-prone, have low yields, can’t be irrigated, are cropland edges with reduced yields next to timbered areas or are just hard to farm for other reasons.”

The timing could not be better for farmers to investigate these financial conservation programs that may pay yearly rental payment for up to 15 years, $100 per acre signing incentives, easement payments, carbon tree planting payments or other incentives.

“Placing those hard-to-farm cropland acres into one of these conservation programs could improve the financial bottom line for farmers on low-yielding cropland and at the same time, improve water quality, reduce erosion and increase habitat for quail, deer, turkey, rabbits, fish and many other species of wildlife.”

Another new program that can be piggybacked with whole CRP field enrollments going to hardwood and cottonwood plantings pays an additional $350 per acre — usually within the first year of enrollment or soon after the trees are planted.

“The program is called GreenTrees and also offers additional future income from the cottonwood trees, plus the landowner receives a percentage of the carbon credits that may be sold in the future. However, only specific soils that are conducive to cottonwood/hardwood planting are eligible for the GreenTrees program but this includes many of the soils found in river basins throughout the delta,” Long said. “Added to all of the cropland flooding the last two years, many farm producers are seriously looking at this program with CRP as an alternative to farming these higher risk croplands.”

Although water is normally a blessing for producers, recent years of abnormally high rainfall during the production season has been more than many farmers can handle financially.

“Combining private and government programs can offer significant financial income opportunities and very attractive alternatives to farming those cropland acres where farmers experience frequent crop income losses or are simply hard to farm and can be a win-win-win for the farmer, wildlife and society.”

Farmers may also contact their county FSA or NRCS office for more information or call Long at (877) 972-5438. For information on GreenTrees, call Andy Johnson at (870)403-3885.