This spring, two new conservation programs available to Arkansas farm producers can be utilized jointly to provide financial incentives and income to restore marginally productive croplands to a conservation tree practice that inter-plants mixed hardwoods with cottonwoods.

The incentives and income opportunities — one from government resources and the other from private resources — have never before been simultaneously available to Arkansas producers.

The two programs are State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (a new CRP program offered by the Arkansas Farm Service Agency) and a private program called GreenTrees, created by C2I of Virginia.

If a producer's eligible croplands meet the criteria of both programs, the combined incentives will provide 604 freely established trees per acre and net income in the first year.

Income opportunities will be available throughout the life of the programs.

Using the programs to plant hardwoods and re-establish wetlands will create wildlife habitat for such species as migratory birds, deer, turkey, bear, ducks, rabbits, and squirrels and will target many species of great conservation concern.

Reforestation is a primary tool for creating this habitat. The rapid growth rate of the GreenTrees cottonwoods nurses the growth of the mixed hardwoods, and with cottonwood harvests, produces a healthier and valuable forest.

Open enrollment for SAFE should be available soon at county FSA offices. Enrollment will be available on a first-come-first-served basis until 9,700 acres statewide are enrolled.

SAFE offers farmers the opportunity to enroll whole fields in new CRP practices including CP38B-WETLANDS, which includes CP23-Wetland Restoration and CP23A Wetland Restoration (Non-Floodplain), and CP38C-TREES, which includes CP3A-Hardwood Trees and CP31 Bottomland Timber Establishment.

Under SAFE, habitat restoration practices offer an additional 40 percent cost-share Practice Incentive Payment, for a total establishment cost-share of 90 percent, plus a $100 per acre Signing Incentive Payment. The incentive payments are in addition to the producer's annual 10- to 15-year soil rental payments.

The goal of GreenTrees is to restore the Delta through reforestation by helping a producer receive the maximum economic and environmental value from each acre of new trees planted. New income opportunities from carbon and biomass supplies are combined throughout the lease with traditional timber and recreational income opportunities.

GreenTrees also offers substantial payments per acre upfront, assuming the soils are suitable for the healthy growth of hardwood and cottonwood plantings. Such payments are paid directly to the producer within the successful planting and establishment period of the new trees.

The programs offer economic opportunities to landowners who want to plant trees. For example, during the first year, landowners enrolled in both CRP SAFE and GreenTrees can expect to cash flow an estimated $400 or more per acre after expenses of getting the trees established.

In addition, CRP rental payments are made each year for the length of the contract up to 15 years. In addition to and independent of the annual CRP rental payments, producers can receive all income as early as year 10 from cottonwood harvests.

If the landowner wants additional harvest income from the cottonwoods, further harvesting can be take place in years 17 and 25. The emergence of the new biomass markets could make the fast-growing and high-quality timber resource very valuable, much more so than traditional pulp and timber supply.

More income opportunities to the landowner from GreenTrees can be expected from future hardwood harvests, hunting and other recreational land uses, and a share in potential carbon income created from the forest.

Landowners can enroll marginal farmland, clear pastures or cultivated acres in the GreenTrees program separately or in conjunction with their CRP-qualified acres.

Because the cottonwood-hardwood tree regime from GreenTrees is a state-accepted tree-planting practice for SAFE (and other CRP hardwood practices), producers can enroll acres into SAFE through county FSA offices and enroll the same acres into GreenTrees directly through Arkansas-based “Landowner Relations” employees who will work directly with producers to quickly verify whether or not the producer's acres contain soils suitable for the cottonwood/hardwood planting. If they do, NRCS and the county forester will make sure the 302 cottonwoods and 302 hardwoods inter-planting is part of the approved CRP SAFE Conservation Plan.

Many times landowners find themselves needing assistance in establishing trees. The GreenTrees agreement provides landowners additional technical and logistical support. Not only will GreenTrees personnel work directly with USDA and forestry personnel in organizing the CRP Conservation Plan for the combined project, but their forestry personnel will work directly with landowners.

GreenTrees field support includes helping select a suitable tree planter for the establishment work, being on-site during the site prep and tree planting, and monitoring the trees' health and growth during the first and second growing seasons.

Further, they help monitor the project on-site thereafter to ensure the optimum carbon growth and payments into the future to benefit the landowner. The landowner does not pay for any of these services.

A critical point for farmers interested in applying for both programs: they must contact GreenTrees first to determine if they have the eligible soils. A variety of soils, especially in the eastern third of Arkansas, have been identified by Arkansas NRCS as suitable for cottonwoods.

GreenTrees personnel can help a producer quickly determine what kinds of soil are on the producer's proposed acres and whether or not they would meet the criteria for enrolling in GreenTrees.

For more information about CRP SAFE enrollment, farmers may contact their county FSA or NRCS office or me at (877) 972-5438.

For more information about GreenTrees enrollment, contact Andy Johnson, landowner relations for Arkansas, at (870) 403-3885 or Page Gravely, senior director, for GreenTrees, at (866) 623-8733, extension 8950. Further program information may be obtained at www.green-trees.com.