OK, corn is above $3 per acre and soybeans are near $7 per bushel. So game set and match, go all crops and forget continuous conservation reserve programs and practices, right? Hold on- that might be jumping to conclusions in a bit of a hurry.
Doug Hovermale, program specialist with the Indiana Farm Service Agency, knows that it is more difficult to compete for acres for conservaiton practices vs. crops that a year ago, due just to higher crop prices. But he also thinks farmers owe it to themselves to check out all options before they summarily dismiss CRP as a good alternative for certain acres.
Hovermale and Gail Peas, also with FSA, believe CP-33, a continuous CRP practice that encourages farmers to establish gamebird wildlife habitat, could be a better fit than many might think. The program offers a hefty annual payment rate for 10 years, lucrative 'signing bonuses,' cost-share dollars and a chance to put some of your least-productive acres into a better use. This program looks for buffers along field borders and fencerows. Those acres often chew up big dollars in inputs, yet typically deliver some of the poorest yield results in the field.
"Indiana is allowed 20,000 acres in this program under the '02 Farm Bill," Hovermale says. "And we need nearly 12,000 more acres to meet that goal. We would like to see this goal met by December 31, '07." Since the authorization for the program is linked to the '02 Farm Bill, it may not continue once the current bill expires.
Hovermale and Peas want Indiana farmers to know that even the State of Indiana is doing its part to make this deal more attractive. Gary Langell of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife, says that the state also offers two gamebird programs- one for pheasants in selected areas in northern Indiana, and one for quail in parts of southern Indiana.
If you qualify for both CP-33 and the state program, you can receive benefits from both. The IDNR programs offer an additional one-time sign-up incentive, plus cost-share for mid-contract management practices. Mid-contract management to maintain the habitat in the best possible condition for gamebirds is mandatory as part of the rules for the CP-33 practice.
Peas calculates that gross returns for land qualifying for both programs could run nearly $200 per acre, averaged over 10 years. Priority areas for state programs are scattered across Indiana. You can find out about eligibility and more details by visiting: www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/huntguide1/wbiolo, or call (317) 232-4080.
The key is being fair about potential income potential on acres suited to this program, specialists say. If yield on acres near tree-lined fence rows is more realistically 80 to $100 bushels per acre, and direct variable expenses to raise corn are $200 to $250 per acre, an alternative program such as CP-33 may look more attractive, even at $3 or higher corn per bushel.