USDA: New grassland establishment programs deadline approaching
Recently, the US Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service has launched three programs that offer assistance to landowners interested in improving grassland habitats on their properties under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Application deadlines for these programs is approaching fast, and producers considering grassland establishment are encouraged to explore these options before enacting grassland seeding plans. The application deadline for the new Honey Bee Project, the new Prairie Pothole Wetland and Grassland Retention Project (PPWGRP), and the Water Bank Program is April 18th, 2014. Producers are encouraged to visit their local NRCS office for program details.
Honey Bee Project
Photo by: Schyler Angell In recent years, honey bees and honey bee hives have declined dramatically in the US. South Dakota is home to the second largest honey bee industry in the country, and most SD counties host bee hives during the summer months. South Dakota bees are transported throughout various regions of the South during the late summer and winter, assisting in the pollination of food crops at a scale that few of us consider.
In a recent fact sheet USDA outlined several reasons for the decline in honey bee populations (SD-FS-94. January 2014), including:
- Loss of foraging habitat (bee pastures) to cultivated agriculture (non-foraging crops).
- Loss of foraging plants within bee pastures – indiscriminate use of broadleaf herbicides.
- Loss of foraging plants within bee pastures due to lack of (or inappropriate) management (grasses take over and wildflowers cannot compete).
- Honey bee mortality due to indiscriminate use of insecticides or lack of bee-safe Integrated Pest Management.
With the overall decline in honey bees, USDA has acknowledged the need to assist beekeepers and landowners in efforts to retain the honey bee and its vital services. For producers considering converting cropland back to grass or grazing lands, taking advantage of this program could dramatically offset the out-of-pocket expense for grass and forb seed planting with minimal long-term contract commitments. Additionally, the program offers options for up to three years of participation and qualifying landowners may receive payments up to $11,200 annually for ensuring adequate honey bee forage through monitoring. After the expiration of the program, and even during the program years to some degree, the restored grasslands could be utilized for haying and grazing production without any long-term program contracts.