At least part of the half-million acres coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program in Texas this year will be highly erodible land that should never have been broken out.
But farmers will base decisions on how to manage that land on economics, says Dan Gohmert, Texas state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Temple.
“We would like to see highly erodible land stay in cover,” Gohmert says. “But producers without the income from CRP may try to farm it.” He says some may opt to leave it under cover and accept CCC payments permitted in the 2008 farm law. “They also have an opportunity to use Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funds to improve the acreage with cross fencing and other options. “It could become part of a grazing management system,” he says.
But farmers who maintain cover on the land, even if they graze it, may not receive the income they could get from row crop production. “They still need to minimize erosion and on some land, and they are not likely to do that. Some may control erosion somewhat, but will still see degradation of the land and could lose as much as four times the tolerance level or more.”
That much erosion will damage the soil and will affect air quality, he says. “Rural communities' air quality may be degraded and agriculture will get the blame.” He says legislation could follow.
Erosion tolerance on sandy soils ranges from 3 to 5 tons of soil loss per acre per year. Shallower soils have lower loss tolerance. “Some soils are as low as one ton per acre per year,” Gohmert says. Soil scientists consult with NRCS to set soil loss tolerance.
“Gohmert recommends land owners consult with NRCS or Extension before deciding to break out CRP land. “We ask that they stay in compliance with highly erodible land as required in the farm bill,” he says. “They should check to see what they need to do to remain in compliance and not lose farm bill benefits.”
Gohmert recommends keeping cover on irrigation corners to help control erosion and to provide wildlife habitat. He's particularly concerned about the impact of fewer CRP acres on lesser prairie chicken habitat.