USDA: New grassland establishment programs deadline approaching
Along with establishing flowering plants to produce nectar for the bees, one objective of the Program is to maintain and improve healthy grazing lands. NRCS recognizes that grazing has a role in maintaining grassland habitats; however, to benefit honey bees, grazing needs to be managed in a manner that encourages honey bee-friendly forage plants. Consequently, use of these acres is necessarily focused on nectar production during the program contract, and any haying or grazing must be avoided during primary flowing period during the contract time period.
For producers looking for an opportunity to expand their grazing lands, this project could be very beneficial. The interesting twist to the Honey Bee Project is that a producer can enroll fields over the course of three years, qualifying annually for seeding cost-share while allowing for the establishment of long-term livestock forages over several fields and ensuring an annual payment on those fields during the establishment year, up to $11,200 annually. This program is open to landowners statewide.
Prairie Pothole Wetland and Grassland Retention Project (PPWGRP): East River ONLY
A second and possibly more appealing program for eastern South Dakota producers interested in establishing grassland for grazing and haying may be the new PPWGRP. Under this program, NRCS will cost share seeding of crop ground to native grasses and forbs. There is no acreage limit on this program. Cost share allowances are generous enough to allow for high-diversity seed mixes that will not only benefit livestock, but will also benefit wildlife in general, including grassland birds and insects. Producers can also opt to participate in additional programs for up to 5 years post planting. These program options include annual grazing management payments (with an approved grazing plan) or higher-rate wildlife habitat payment if grass is managed for wildlife production.
Under this program, producers can utilize NRCS funding to plant grassland buffers around wetlands in crop ground. Water Bank requires that these acres be idled for 10 years.
Under these programs, NRCS will cost share typical EQIP type expenditures such as fencing, water development, etc. While they may not offer enough to convert an entire farm back to grasslands, they do offer an encouraging start for the producer looking to explore options for grassland restoration while not shouldering the full expense of purchasing seed and managing the new stand.