Temporary fix offered for Douglas County CRP issue

There’s some good news for Douglas County producers who are wondering what to do with their expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage.

At February’s state board meeting of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), Jon Wyss, Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Washington state executive director, announced a temporary fix for growers in Douglas County who are ineligible for the current CRP general sign-up due to the county’s CRP acreage cap. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering producers the opportunity to enroll expiring CRP ground into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) using funds from the national Sage Grouse Initiative. This is a competitive sign-up, growers will have to meet FSA eligibility and have an NRCS conservation plan that addresses wildlife management for sage grouse. Depending on the practices implemented and the monitoring level selected, producers can receive payment for the work they will do to enhance, manage and monitor the habitat for sage grouse.

“Through the joint efforts of NRCS and FSA, we were able to find a program that can assist those producers, especially in Douglas County, with a program that keeps the common goal of protecting ag lands and enhancing habitat for wildlife,” Wyss said. “We could not have done this without the assistance of our NRCS State Conservationist Roylene Comes at Night and her staff, along with our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We look forward to continuing to work on behalf of all our producers in the state.”

Douglas County growers interested in taking advantage of this opportunity need to make sure all their FSA paperwork is up to date before contacting NRCS and submitting an application. Once they have their paperwork in order, they’ll be able to sign up for the program beginning March 1 through April 2. 

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, many State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) acres are no longer exempt from counting towards a county’s CRP acreage limit, which is 25 percent of a county’s total cropland that is eligible for CRP. In Douglas County, which has slightly more than 187,500 acres in CRP, 63,000 acres of which are in SAFE, their county acreage cap is 143,700 acres, meaning they are roughly 43,800 acres over their cap. To change how SAFE acres are classified would require Congressional action.

Wyss said the state FSA office has been working on the issue since November and is still working on getting a waiver that would allow the county to exceed the CRP acreage cap, a more permanent solution. He called the EQIP program a “short-term fix to a longer-term issue that needs to be addressed in D.C.” 

During their trip to the nation’s capital in January, WAWG leaders addressed this issue with members of the state’s federal delegation and in meetings with USDA officials.

“We appreciate the quick response from the state FSA office to the CRP situation in Douglas County,” said Ryan Poe, president of WAWG. “Jon Wyss and his staff worked closely with us, other industry groups, our federal delegation and other USDA agencies to understand the problem and to try to find a solution. Farmers in Douglas County have made great strides in protecting natural resources through conservation practices, and this situation threatened to derail much of the work that had been done.”

Producers interested in the Sage Grouse Initiative EQIP program should consider:

• This is a five-year program, and signups officially began March 1, 2020. 

• All eligibility forms for FSA need to be updated to show ability to qualify for programs, including AGI limitations. This needs to be done before NRCS will process an application for the Sage Grouse Initiative as a temporary solution to expiring CRP.

• Monitoring will be a component of the project, and the rental rate depends on how much work the producer wants to put into the program. 

NRCS will work with farmers to develop wildlife management plans. The program does allow prescribed grazing, but has some specific requirements, including fencing, water developments, markers, etc.

Producers that have questions should contact their local NRCS office.