There is a groundswell of Arkansas farm producers enrolling in conservation buffer programs that benefit both wildlife and the farmer’s bottom line.

In just one of several programs, Arkansas farmers, through their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices, have signed up over 4,000 acres of croplands along field edges in a relatively new conservation buffer practice.

These practices are available to producers in the row-crop counties of the state through the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) administrated by the county FSA offices. And farmers do not have to compete to be approved for enrollment in the program.

According to David Long, agricultural liaison with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, “CP33, Wildlife Habitat for Upland Birds, is the practice many producers are finding is not only beneficial to wildlife, but improving their financial bottom-line. An estimated 300 miles of buffers already have been signed up by farm producers across the state, providing soil erosion protection, water quality improvement along with increasing wildlife habitat on the farm.”

The objective of CP33 buffers is to establish a 30- to 120-foot habitat barrier of native grasses around edges of existing crop fields. The area provides cover and nesting habitat for bobwhite quail along with benefits to other species such as cottontails, grassland songbirds, turkey and deer.

Craighead County farmer Henry Finch, who raises cotton and soybeans, is one such farmer who has enrolled field borders and one whole field into four different CRP conservation practices including CP33. According to Finch, he and his family farm their own ground but also lease cropland from other landowners. Between these croplands, Finch and the landowners have enrolled 11 acres of native grass buffers into the CP33 and 15 acres into CP21-Filter Strips.

The family also has enrolled 3.5 acres into CP22- Riparian Forest Buffers which is a tree practice, along with another 47. 8 acres of cropland in CP23, which is a wetland habitat practice.

When asked what made these croplands attractive for enrollment, Finch explained, “A combination of factors influenced our decision to enroll to include many of these crop fields were small in size and not feasible to farm with modern 12-row equipment and we wanted to benefit wildlife on the farm because we enjoying hunting and seeing wildlife.”

The many financial incentives offered through the CRP practices were icing on the cake. “CRP was a real good fit for us and the landowners we farm for.”

Finch also expects wildlife benefits on the land he farms and is already seeing the results. “We already have turkeys nesting along the levees and with this increased grass and tree buffers connecting the levee system, we expect greater turkey production in the future.

“We fully expect an increase in habitat for turkeys, quail, cottontails, along with providing bedding and fawning areas for deer, which are increasing in our area of the county. Deer already use the existing patches of habitat found on these farms and with the increased habitat, we expect we can raise some real quality bucks on these river bottom soils”.

Would he recommend this to other farmers? “Many farms have areas such as ours that include small fields limiting equipment use or larger fields that may be hard to farm for various reasons. The many CCRP practices are just the ticket to establish wildlife habitat on these type cropland acres and get paid to do it through this FSA conservation program. We could have a lot more habitat and wildlife, if farmers would put just a few acres of grass or tree buffers around their croplands, which also would provide decent farm income on these acres through CRP rental payments.”

Long said there is a groundswell of farmers enrolling cropland acres into CP33 and other CCRP practices. “Statewide, over 78,000 acres of croplands, which are mostly marginally productive and hard to farm, have been enrolled. Other CCRP practices farmers are using that really fit into their cropland operations include CP21-Filter strips, CP22- Riparian Forest Buffers, CP23 and CP23A-Wetland Restoration and CP31 Bottomland Timber Establishment on Wetlands…

“Enrolling these cropland acres can benefit both the farmer, tenant farmer and/or the landowner, resulting in a much more efficient farming operation both financially and agriculturally. With farmers enrolling over 78,000 acres of buffers and other practices, this program has proven to be a win-win for farmers, tenants and landowners all over the row-crop areas of the state and wildlife,” Long advised.

According to Kevin Cochran, Jackson County District Conservationist with NRCS, “We have approximately 120 producers covering 180 CRP contracts on over 5,600 acres of cropland in the county. These practices run the full range of the continuous CRP practices. As farmers talk to farmers about the income benefits and the increase in wildlife populations on their CRP acres, more farmers are enrolling their marginally productive croplands.”

The CCRP incentives may include one or more of the following: 10- to 15-year soil rental payments; 50 percent cost-share; 40 percent practice incentive (additional 40 percent cost-share); and a $100 per acre signing incentive payment. CP21 and CP22 also offer an additional 20 percent incentive added to the soil rental payments.

Long also said that in July 2007, many county yearly CRP soil rental rates were increased, now ranging from a low of $25 per acre to a high of $97 per acre, per year. For croplands enrolled in CP21 or CP22 — which receives an additional 20 percent added to the base rental — CRP payments for many soils range from $70 to over $100 per acre, Long said.

To check out the soil rental rates for each county, producers may go to the following Web link: http://www.arkansashabitat.org/pages/programs/crp_rental_rates.html.

“But to determine exact rental payments, producers should go to their county FSA and/or NRCS offices,” Long explained.

For more information, those farmers or landowners interested should contact their county Farm Service Agency, county Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Regional Private Lands Biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at one of the following offices, toll-free: Brinkley, (877) 734-4581; Camden, (877) 836-4612; Fort Smith, (877) 478-1043; Jonesboro, (877) 972-5438; Mayflower (877) 470-3650; Monticello, (877) 367-3559; Hope, (877) 777-5580; or Russellville, (877)967-7577. Long may be contacted at (877) 972-5438.