Time is drawing near for the expiration of many Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts on the South Plains and High Plains regions of the state.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wants to remind landowners with expiring CRP contracts to come by the local field offices to review their conservation compliance plans before making decisions on the future use of their land.

“The bulk of the state’s expiring CRP contracts are located on the South Plains and Panhandle regions,” said Mickey Black, NRCS assistant state conservationist in Lubbock. “It’s important for landowners to understand USDA compliance before putting a plow in the ground. Producers should know the options available to them.”

According to the Farm Service Agency (FSA), in this region there are over 78,000 acres in CRP contracts due to expire in October. Almost 680,000 acres of CRP will expire in October of 2009, and over 507,000 acres in October of 2010.

NRCS wants producers to know that it’s never too early to start considering what to do with CRP land. Leigh Cranmer, NRCS agronomist in Lubbock said, “Landowners have several options, including grazing or haying the existing grass cover, making enhancements to target wildlife, or putting it back into production. A grazing or haying system could be set up for relatively little cost, and would offer protection from erosion as well as benefiting wildlife. If crop production is the goal, serious consideration should be given to leaving sensitive areas and acres with a low potential for production in grass, and only farming those areas best suited for crop production.”

NRCS can assist producers with livestock water facilities and cross fences if producers leave the land in the existing grass cover. Cost share assistance may be available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), administered by NRCS.

According to NRCS, if land is converted back to crop production, it may be necessary for landowners to apply certain conservation practices on their land to ensure compliance with the Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985.

Conservation compliance could entail the implementation of a crop rotation that includes high residue-producing crops like wheat or sorghum, or the installation, repair and maintenance of structural practices like terraces.

NRCS, working with the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, urges producers to contact their local NRCS field offices to discuss expiring CRP options and to check on eligibility for USDA benefits.

CRP is a voluntary program through which farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees on marginal cropland acres in exchange for rental payments. The USDA Farm Service Agency administers CRP; NRCS provides technical assistance for the program.

For more information, call the USDA-NRCS office in your county, listed under USDA in the Yellow Pages, or access the information on the Texas NRCS website at www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov.