Make sure you know what youre getting into guys


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I have a little rant so buckle up guys lol

Let me start by saying that I think CRP is a good program overall, here it keeps some marginal land out of production, ground that could be farmed, but shouldn't. At the same time I don't believe its fair to make farmers bid against the Gov for decent land. Most of the time, the Gov will pay more than the landlord could get from rent.
But don't be fooled, the NRCS is only out for what they think is best for them, not whats best for the land overall.

Ill explain my reasoning. A landlord of ours has some decent land in CRP, its about 50 acres in a couple patches along a creek. Its in year 7 of a 10 year contract, he put it in before we started renting from him but we have custom harvested them before years ago. The CRP paid very well at that time and the creek crossing had washed out and was shoddily repaired so it was impossible to get most equipment across. The crossing has been fixed and the plan is when the contract is up, we will start farming it again.
Fast forward to this year, because of the drought conditions CRP was opened up to haying and grazing, so we thought itd be good to hay it, both for the hay, the overall health of the CRP, because to us it looked like crap, lots of "weeds" and almost no native grass, which is usual for CRP here. Well as we drove around checking it out, seeing if it was worth it, we found that one of the patches was completely covered in brush, turned out they were young ash trees, about 3-4ft tall and some cedar trees about the same height. So we knew something had to be done soon before it got out of hand.

So the LL called the NRCS to send out an expert, and the LL wasn't able to be there so he asked us to meet him, since wed be doing whatever was determined anyway. So we met the guy and started showing him around through all the fields and he was just giddy with excitement, "everything looks great, except for the brome grass". We were puzzled, so he explained that the brome isn't good for young quail, etc. That's when we found out that instead of being in a regular CRP program it was put in whats called CHP25 I believe it is. So instead of being all native grasses, its a diverse mix of things from some native grass to alfalfa to wildflowers and there is absolutely no haying or grazing allowed, EVER.
So we got him to the ash covered field and he agreed that it was a problem, but he wasn't sure what to do about it because of the restrictions of the program. He did say that it might have to be an exceptional circumstances thing. But he also said they might decide that nothing can be done until the contract is up, but by that time we would have to get drastic, like plowing them under. (So ruin all the good OM and soil structure that's been built back up just because some idiot in Lincoln wants to stay withing the "rules" also written by idiots if you ask me) He did ask what we thought should be done, and our thought was to spray is with 2-4D and kill them standing and then next spring, go in and shred them off. He said that's what he'd do too, but it would kill all the other things and leave only grass. Our argument was that it was only a 10ac field and solved the problem once and for all, but still left a decent habitat. The NRCS guy agreed that was probably best but he had to approve it by the "big wigs" and they had the final say.

So he called us back about a week later and said they decided to "allow" us to shred it this fall, with the stipulation that we HAD to spray the brome out, get this, with roundup, after a hard freeze on a warm day! (we have tons of those in Nebraska you know! And in the middle of harvest to boot!) Sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me, but that's what were gonna do and if it doesn't work its their ass I guess, not real excited about trying to spray in the cold but whatever.

SOOO as far as I'm concerned, the NRCS doesn't give 2 shits about a field that has been taken over by trees, but gotta make sure we kill ALL that brome grass NOW! What a joke! So instead of having a decent habitat of grasses on a small percentage of the whole piece, now theres no habitat on it and its full of tire shredding stumps that hopefully wont grow back but I'm guessing they will. Dad and I both said we should've just went in and sprayed it, and no one would've been the wiser, obviously they haven't been spot checking it, and in our opinion it all needs a good shredding, or a good grazing, and then itd really take off.

Moral of the story is make sure you know what youre getting into when it comes to working with the government!
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I guess I really don't understand the "Programs" deal...
I realize they my be different all across the country, but in my case I have 2 different programs to provide wildlife buffer strips. These are areas of 120' wide from the edge of the existing ag field (that borders wooded areas or a riprarrian area) where I am paid by the government NOT to farm that ground. Instead we plant or allow different habitat to grow and manage. In my area many farm fields have very "hard" edges and if it's flat enough to keep the tractor from tipping over it's farmed. This is very detrimental to wildlife that need brush and successional type areas to flourish. Mine are aimed at providing habitat for quail - which are in serious decline in IN. I essentially sign a 10 or 15 year contract where the government pays me a rental for that land as well as some provisions for costs to manage accordingly to their plan. In my specific case I break even from renting to the government vs renting to a farmer and as such I then would prefer to have the wildlife habitat. Some plans are very detailed as to what you can plant or can allow to grow while others are more general in nature - so to the OP's point - you need to know those details. After the contract you can choose to re-enroll or go back to farming that ground if you so choose. The intent is to protect areas that really shouldn't be farmed or to prevent erosion or has other wildlife and environmental benefits. It's not meant to be "welfare" for farmers but some may negotiate prices that exceed the true fair value of those acres for whatever reason. The government realizes that without some sort of financial benefit farmers will farm every inch of dirt they can and wildlife and habitat will suffer along the way. provisions for many of these programs is in the "Farm Bill" that goes thru the federal government and is then administered by the NRCS offices.

In my case these programs have helped me provide a more diverse habitat and more cover than I would other wise. In my case it's to the tune of a few thousand dollars a year...... In my case I'm looking at a rate of roughly $200/acre - for CRP or rental farming. Some will say - it's just $200......ummmm, that's multiplied by 100 acres in my case. So to put everything to habitat would have a lost opportunity cost of roughly 20 grand a year. Try pulling that out of your household income. As such we farm what makes sense and have these buffer programs in place to offset the rest - I maintain my income level and improve my habitat and the farmer now only farms the better soil as well.
I have a little rant so buckle up guys lol

Moral of the story is make sure you know what youre getting into when it comes to working with the government!

Yes. You should know what you are getting into anytime you get involved in a deal, especially where there's the matter of a legal contract involved.

Have you opinions about NRCS. No problem. Have your opinion about CRP. No problem. Have your opinion about government. We should all participate in a debate -- a civil debate-- about the merits of whatever you think needs debating. And, from where I sit, it should be an informed debate.

Allow me to offer a few pointers about CRP. Yes, it's best you understand what you are getting into before you get into it. You were obviously primed to go off on this for some reason and you don't even have a dog in the fight! Nor do you have much understanding of the subject you write about.

If I may, The Conservation Reserve Program has a lot of different avenues to travel, all aimed at addressing specific resource concerns. The general CRP program is basically a bid program where entire fields and/or multiple fields are OFFERED for enrollment. The number of acres accepted is capped. With a few exceptions, the offered land must be highly erodible. Let's let the definition of the same alone for the moment. All the offers are tabulated and ranked. Enrollment starts at the top and goes down the list that's sorted from most highly erodible to least. The selection stops when all the allocated acres are consumed. Annual rental payments are based on the average cash rent paid by farmers in the county where the CRP will be located. Upon acceptance, the landowner or whomever is in control of the land for the contract period and NRCS meet to decide what conservation practices are most suited for the area. There are cash payments made at a certain percentage of the total establishment cost with annual rental payments made for the life of the contract. Yes, for the life of the contract, the landowner or other representative looses control of that land. Effectively, the tax payers are renting your land. Still, there are certain things you can do, and there are certain things you must do. It's a contract and money and other valuable services have been exchanged. Your opinion doesn't matter. However, in my limited experience, if you talk to a NRCS Conservationist you can get modifications. But, violate the contract and the contract holder must return all the payments, establishment and interest. Funny thing, its not really a penalty!

So, that's the general sign up. What you refer to is not a product of general sign up. There, the contracts are for 16-years. There's another avenue. Its called continuous signup. It's not competitive, but enrollment is limited to specific areas, like land along a stream or buffers along a field for wildlife habitat. The acreage is usually smaller, but the incentive are typically greater. Still a contract. Still the same expectations.

In some states there's a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Same deal and requirements, but its possible to piggyback federal money on state money to accomplish some very specific conservation needs.

Now, in all cases the contract holder is responsible for executing the plan. That means planting according to specification and some very modest mid-term maintenance. If the objectives are not met....if the plants that were supposed to be there are not, who's responsible for that? It's not an issue of non-compliance. There are a lot of things to consider. Sometimes there's money to correct the problem. Sometimes not. If whatever is growing there is conserving soil resources the contract continues and annual rental payments are made.

I'm not sure what practice might be there. You call it a CHP 25. Maybe a CP 25? But I don't know. Part of your description makes it sound like there are riparian buffers along the creek, but then you mention quail - and there's a particular practice - a prescribed planting for that. CP 22 is for installing riparian buffers. A CP 33 is habitat buffers for upland birds. Neither practice is so expansive that stumps will consume an entire field.
I will say that I do not have personal experience with CRP because all of our ground is either farmed or in pasture. But I do have good knowledge with this farm, and through this experience. And my dog in the fight comes from wanting whats best for the ground while having it ready to start farming again when the contract is up.

It may be CP25 not CHP25, I do remember the NRCS rep said its one of the most restrictive programs on what you can and cannot do. I would guess that 99% of the CRP land around here is in native grasses. We thought that was the only CRP program there was because that's all I or Dad has ever seen in our lifetimes.
Theres some problems with having to compete with the county average, like in our county, I live on the north end, and rent is much different than the south, and east is different that the west. Here it puts the average rent close to not being profitable in our area, especially on the marginal ground, but may seem cheap in others.

The landowner realizes that technically out of compliance but that's a separate issue, the main focus now is to fix the problem

My rant come from the feeling we got that the NRCS doesn't care about the ground overall, hence the suggestion that they might not let us do anything until the contract is up, and then we would be left with the only option of plowing the ground and destroying everything that was built up. Not to mention that it seemed to us that the brome grass was much more of a concern than the trees.
i will say with my CRP the rental payments may not be "profitable" but in my case because I rent the ground out. The CRP payment covered what I was making in cash rent and then because the renter was no longer having to farm the more marginal areas he then upped his $ per acre as well. So in the long run I actually am making more than I was. I realize if your physically farming the ground there are lots of other factors to consider. I do know that in my case those edges up against the timber and the like always did poorly. The struggle for sunlight, soil nutrients and soil moisture always made those rows weak and then they also where most readily attacked by wildlife as well. I also know the farmer didn't like getting his expensive equipment that close to the trees for fear of damaging his equipment. I know it also protects more erodible areas which again can be hard on equipment - I know the guy who farms our place snapped a rear axle on his combine in harvest season because of an erosion rut. He was not happy to say the least. CRP programs can be a possible solution for some and not others. That is where you have to understand what your signing up for AND understand that the contracts expire and may NOT be renewed - so you have to be prepared and informed. I looked at mine form a wildlife perspective first, with the monetary side of it as a very close second. I didn't want to make money, but I sure didn't want to loose it if I could help it. In my county the DNR claims only 89 square miles of the total 373 square miles is "deer habitat" - so every little bit helps in that aspect as well.
My rant come from the feeling we got that the NRCS doesn't care about the ground overall, hence the suggestion that they might not let us do anything until the contract is up, and then we would be left with the only option of plowing the ground and destroying everything that was built up. Not to mention that it seemed to us that the brome grass was much more of a concern than the trees.

Touche! I think the intent of a lot of these programs is the ground would remain in a conservation planting AFTER the contract expires. That's another issue.

I'm not so sure ALL of NRCS doesn't care. If you didn't get satisfaction from the NRCS rep don't give up. For simplicity I'm going to assume it was a 'him.'
Was he a technician or the local conservationist? Probably out your way there are any number of folks (hims and hers) that work in an office. Ask for a second opinion. People are people, but some have different views and interpretations. If that doesn't work go to the district conservationist. Bureaucracy, sure.

It was NRCS and not the local Soil & Water Conservation District rep?

And, if it is a CRP practice check with local FSA office. They administer the program. NRCS just provides technical standards and advice.

Good luck!
Actually the rep, (not sure what his actual title is but he deals with this type of thing and I'm sure other things as well) was the best part of it. He said many things on how this piece would be nice to farm especially after the contract is up, I think he is one of those that actually looks out for the best interest of the landowner, the ground, and the possible future farmer, and is willing to go outside of the "rules" to fix an issue like this. Its the higher ups than him that can cause the issues, and he even mentioned that, he can make a recommendation, but they have the final say, and hes had disagreements with them before.

We ended up shredding the patch with the most ash trees and spot shredding on all of it to shred off any cedars, but that also showed us that there are more ash coming in some of the other fields, but you couldn't see them as easily, sooo now the plan is to spray it this fall like they want, and hoping we do it right and don't end up killing most everything (I'm half afraid we will, but we will follow their instructions so its on them) then keep shredding areas with lots of ash coming just to keep it down. Honestly, it needs a herd of cows run through it for awhile.
I was an elected Soil and Water Conservation District Director for 8 years. 4 county district. We worked closely with NRCS. The local guys tried hard to fit the right program to the farm or farmer. But Fed. stuff is a paperwork monster. The other thing is in Va. SWCD's have good funding due to the Chesapeake Bay Clean Up, and the bar is set lower for SWCD programs in terms of paperwork and reporting. Only about a 5% chance per year for a spot inspection.

The thing I always tell people about conservation programs is it is an X # year sign up. What are you going to be doing in 10 years? You need a vision for your property if you want to be a good steward. Also, READ THE CONTRACT.

The other thing to watch out for with NRCS is they are always pushing the hot new program.

I have been on a field meeting with them and had them say "we have some great new programs that would be perfect for this farm" and next question is ok what are they and what do they do and what is the cost share? "Well I don't really know since I haven't done the training yet."
It just is not worth the trouble for what you get in return.
That has been my concern. Every time I've tried to enroll in various programs I've shy away due to the amount of paperwork and the lack of control I would have over my land. If I decide in 3yrs that I'm not happy with the change and want to start over in a new direction then I don't want to be tied to a 10yr contract. The small savings I could gain just isn't worth it. With that said, I've viewing this strictly with a habitat viewpoint. If I was farming for my livelihood I may have a change of heat.
Most of the real people I know who run small to mid size operations, use gov't programs sparingly. IMHO only the big guys can make it a lucrative endeavor.
The title of this thread says it all.
After I bought the property across the road from my home I looked into an NRCS program. I had a rep come out and we looked at different options etc and I was excited I could enroll in a program and recover a large amount of my initial investment. I enrolled.
I cleared about 4 acres of land covered in Hawthorn bushes and thorn apple trees. Then I planted over 1400 Norway Spruce trees in an 'L' shape for wildlife cover and a windbreak. I spent hour upon hour clearing away brush and piling it up for cover for smaller game animals.
When the rep came up to assess what I'd done she had a fit I had planted the trees. I was in total awe. Her explanation was the trees would allow song birds to land in the trees and larger birds would roost in the trees nearby in a hedgerow swoop down and kill the song birds. She wanted the trees torn out.
I told her flatly I didn't believe that but what I was doing was geared toward habitat and cover for the deer. When she declared she didn't care about deer but was only interested in song birds I was lucid.
Now I had signed a contract which prevented me from managing my own bought and paid for property the way I saw fit.
I went to the office and declared my displeasure about the situation and wanted to get out of the contract. I was allowed to do this as up to this point no money had exchanged hands. TG I didn't wait too long. or I would have been locked into a ten year contract or pay a hefty penalty to get out of the contract. The contract would have paid me over $36,000 over a ten year period. A dollar loss perhaps but I was left to be independent to do as I saw fit with my land.
I do have a CRP contract on the property behind my house with a protected trout stream going through it. I also have contracts with USDA for the lands I rent out to a farmer who grows crops on. These have worked well for me. Financially I am about on par with what the NRCS contract would have paid me. The NRCS contract would expire this coming spring. The contracts I have now will continue until I decide not to participate which is not likely to happen any time soon.
BTW, the agent I was working with when I signed up with NRCS was an intern. Shortly after we had our falling out she was transferred to another district while she continued her college studies. I believe it was scheduled and had nothing to do with our situation.
Read and heed the title of this thread and do your homework before entering into any government contract. Ask questions and get opinions from others who have entered into any of these programs around your area. Not all offices or their personell are created equally.
While the fuse on this firecracker is still burning, let me offer a few thoughts.

Treat what the federal, state, and/or local government is offering as you would any other financial exchange. If it looks too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true. Either the program hasn't been presented to you correctly, or, you want to believe you hit the jack pot. In a two party exchange everybody gets some value.

I'll assume we are talking about conservation programs. They are extremely popular, contrary to the evidence above. Many landowners and producers of farm products get a lot of benefit. As an aside, there are some who believe the costs of the programs do not provide equal or great benefits to society, and, I tend to lean that way.

Each of these programs has an objective. Some are designed to improve songbird habitat. If you want to take songbird money and then do whatever you want to do, there's going to be a problem. Go into these things well informed because, sometimes - and only sometimes - the folks trying to explain the program to you are real good at designing and implementing programs, but not so good at lot's of other (interpersonal?) things. Yes, it's a problem, but for every problem there are 25 well versed people on the government side.

Finally, consider the scope of the CRP program. It was instituted in 1987 and authorized enrollment of up to 37 million acres of environmentally sensitive land that was under cultivation. The bucket has sprung a little leak as there are now around 23 million acres enrolled, but I think the new farm bill raised the cap.

Yes, these are programs for working farms although they may bring some wildlife benefit as well. In 2017 in the United States farm income was $16.85 billion dollars. Of that total $1.67 billion was from farm participation in all federally funded conservation programs.
No, it isn't for everyone, and yes there's some paperwork and expectations involved, but, over a quarter-million farms find value in it.

Yes, at least here in Virginia, there's a lot of state money allocated to the local soil and water conservation districts for good uses. The paperwork is less, and the compliance requirements are fewer - if there are any that are actually enforced. But, that makes it good for one side of the transaction, but not so much for the other side...if you know what I mean.

In any case, all of these are voluntary programs. Lots of folks benefit from them. Maybe you can, too.
Thanks XFarmer for your explanations of government programs, obviously you have some knowledge and experience with them. I am currently partway into a 50 acre program for songbird habitat and invasive species control, and so far have nothing but good to say about the NRCS personnel and their programs. A few things to know if you are considering signing up for a program; there's tons of paperwork, but there's nothing in the fine print designed to trap you. The government is not out to get you, but that could be a side effect of you not reading the contracts and/or understanding the parameters of the program. I am a contractor, and contractors learn very quickly to know how to read contracts. First, just like an insurance policy, identify the boilerplate and don't waste your time reading it, but carefully read everything that isn't boilerplate. Out of a 20 page contract, boilerplate is usually every page but one or two, and serves the function of providing the teeth to the one page that has the specific terms and details relating to the transaction at hand. Second, after you've got a grasp of the contract terms, analyze exactly how they will affect you for the duration of the contract. In my case, on these 50 acres I cannot plant a tree, or cut a tree, or any other growing thing, except for invasives, for 10 years. This fits in well with my program. The NRCS personnel has the right to enter the 50 acres at any time, within reason, with fair notice. That's ok with me. Those are the only 2 serious contract conditions, beyond the initial work of habitat improvement and invasive control, that apply to me. So, me signing the contract not knowing I can't plant a tree for 10 years would be naive on my part. And me trying to plant a tree for 10 years when I've been paid not to would be not only ignorant, but dishonest. Also, while taxpayer money is involved, a lot of the money for the warbler bird programs has been donated by wealthy people who have a soft spot for endangered birds. By the way, the warbler program amounts to doing a TSI in mature woods to create thickets with some big trees standing for perches and nesting. Basically the same thing that a landowner would consider doing for deer habitat. I'm not saying that government programs are right for everyone. But if NRCS determines that they are going to protect 10,000 acres of the most erodeable land from erosion and you have some of it, go for it. Or 50 acres for the birds.