USDA Offers Grassland Reserve Program Sign-up

First ranking application date is July.

Published on: May 22, 2009

Nebraska landowners wishing to maintain grazing land in grass, including range and pasture land, can apply for funds through the Grassland Reserve Program by July 1 at any USDA Service Center, says Steve Chick, state conservationist for the NRCS in Nebraska.

"Applying for GRP is continuous, but ranking dates are established to evaluate and select applications for funding," he says. "GRP is implemented jointly by the NRCS and the USDA Farm Service Agency. Landowners can start their applications at either USDA office."

The goal of the program is to protect and/or restore existing grasslands for working grazing operations and enhancement of plant and wildlife diversity. Landowners maintain ownership and can either sign a minimum of 10-year rental agreement, or choose a 15- or 20-year rental agreement, or they can enter into a permanent conservation easement, which will perpetually keep the land in grass.

FSA establishes rental rates for all counties at 75% of the grazing value. Easements are a one-time payment with the amount determined by the lowest of either an appraisal, area market survey, geographic rate cap established by USDA, or a landowner's offer. All easement calculations will deduct for grazing value of the land. Participation will require a grazing management plan for the land.

Priority enrollment in GRP is being given to land previously in the Conservation Reserve Program if there is a significant threat of conversion to uses other than grazing. Only 10% of the GRP can come from expiring CRP acres in any year. Producers with expiring CRP acres can enroll in GRP up to 12 months before the CRP contract expires.

Priority enrollment is limited to the easement or 20-year rental contract.

USDA has set a payment cap of $50,000 annually per person or legal entity for rental contracts. Land that may need restoration work will receive 50% cost-share with the same $50,000 payment limit.

Nebraska has $1 million in GRP funds available. There are no minimum or maximum acre limits.

This program has not been offered since 2005 when the acreage limits for the program were reached. The 2008 Farm Bill has authorized another 1.2 million acres to be enrolled through 2012.

Based on previous years, we expect a lot of applicants for the funds," says Chick.