Vicky Hartzler. Photo by Bill Benson

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia-Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) introduced H.R. 4298, the CRP Grazing Flexibility Act, which she says  would improve the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for program stakeholders, including farmers, conservation advocates, wildlife enthusiasts, and U.S. taxpayers. The measure allows farmers to use grazing to satisfy their CRP mid-contract management requirement.

“This commonsense fix to the Conservation Reserve Program is a win-win change for agriculture and conservation that reflects the most recent science on the importance of grazing in improving land management for wildlife habitat,” Hartzler said. “By adding grazing as a mid-contract management practice with an exemption from USDA cost-sharing, we’re giving farmers more options to manage their land, saving taxpayer dollars, and allowing better management of this conservation program that will improve critical wildlife habitat and reap greater benefits for our environment.”

Farmers enrolled in the CRP program are required to implement mid-contract management practices to maintain their CRP lands. These mid-contract management practices, which are supported by a USDA cost-share program, currently include burning, chemical burning and disking.

H.R. 4298 adds grazing to the list of authorized mid-contract management practices for CRP acreage, but withholds USDA cost-share eligibility for those practices. Instead of receiving the cost-share payments associated with current approved management practices, livestock producers would be able to reap grazing benefits under strict guidelines based on best conservation practices as determined by each state’s technical committee.

Conservation groups like Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever attest that grazing is another valuable tool to manage our grasslands and establish stable wildlife habitat—a key goal of the Conservation Reserve Program. Adding grazing flexibility into CRP would improve quail and pheasant populations by improving the land’s suitability for bird habitat.

“The Conservation Reserve Program is currently missing out on a land and wildlife stewardship opportunity by not offering grazing as a mid-contract management practice,” said John Wallace, the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Regional Field Representative based in Columbia, Missouri. “By implementing grazing on their CRP lands, farmers can develop better habitats and healthier populations of gamebirds and other wildlife, which enhances recreational and hunting opportunities on their farms.”

Grazing as a mid-contract management practice also reaps benefits for soil health and the potential productivity of CRP lands.

“Agricultural producers know nationwide that livestock grazing done right can actually improve the health of America’s soils,” said Brent Van Dyke, President of the National Association of Conservation Districts. “This bill would allow grazing as an alternative mid-contract management practice when and where appropriate on CRP lands without reducing rental payments. From every perspective—scientific, economic, societal, you name it—it just makes good sense to allow grazing when it produces the same or better results for our soils and wildlife habitat.”

“CRP is a vital conservation program that provides incredible benefit to both people and nature across our farmlands. We thank Congresswoman Hartzler for introducing legislation adding grazing flexibility to the program, helping farmers achieve higher-level conservation including greater wildlife populations and healthier soils.”  Adam McLane, Missouri State Director-The Nature Conservancy.

The Conservation Reserve Program, which was authorized in the 1985 Farm Bill, incentivizes farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production, which helps restore wildlife habitats, enhance soil health and preserve marginal lands.