Grass waves in the western South Dakota wind. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)
Only two states enrolled more land than South Dakota in the most recent sign-up period for a federal grassland conservation program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grassland Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to convert or keep environmentally sensitive agricultural land as grassland for 10 to 15 years.
Unlike the USDA’s standard Conservation Reserve Program, the grassland program lets landowners continue making hay on the land and allowing their animals to graze it.
The program helps address climate change by conserving grasslands that pull atmospheric heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the soil. Grasslands also increase the land’s resilience to drought and flooding, improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife.
Total national enrollments in the grasslands program reached 2.7 million acres this year. South Dakotans enrolled 325,443 acres. Nebraska ranked second with 417,865 acres, and Colorado ranked number one with 430,899 acres.
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Jim Inglis, director of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever – an upland habitat conservation organization – said in a statement that the number of sign-ups are “a great sign for grassland habitat everywhere, as the storied program continues to provide immense benefits for a wide array of wildlife on working lands.”
The USDA prioritizes land within two national priority zones: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Dust Bowl area (a reference to the region of the Great Plains affected by dust storms and erosion in the 1930s, including South Dakota).
“This year’s Grassland CRP sign-up demonstrates the continued popularity, success, and value of investments in voluntary, producer-led, working lands conservation programs,” said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency, in a written statement.
A record-breaking 3.1 million acres were enrolled in the grassland conservation program last year.
South Dakota landowners interested in the program, or any other conservation program, may visit their local USDA service center and connect with a Farm Bill biologist.
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