Farmland reserve program reopens Federal, state agencies rent parcels set aside for conservation

November 24, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Farmers who have a patch of land that is more trouble to farm than it's worth have an alternative, as the federal government reopens sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program.

Until Dec. 11, farmers can apply to place a portion of their land in the program, which pays them rent of $50 to $70 an acre. In exchange, the farmer plants grasses, wildflowers and other plants as food for wildlife and to prevent soil erosion.

"We're getting a fairly decent response to it," said Kelly Hereth, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Carroll County.

The county has 1,231 acres enrolled in the federal conservation program. Another 321 acres are enrolled in a conservation program the state has developed to pay more rent for sensitive land close to waterways.

Thirty-four farmers have applied this fall to enroll 196 acres in conservation. One of them is Dick Weaver, an Upperco farmer and high school teacher.

"For ground that was highly problematic, it's something to look into," said Weaver, who signed 20 acres into the state-enhanced program in cooperation with the owner of the land. Weaver raises grain and vegetables on about 300 acres, some of which is rented.

When he planted corn or soybeans on that 20 acres, it wasn't unusual for a herd of 30 to 40 deer to make a meal of it. By planting a mix of red clover, white clover, red fescue and orchard grasses, he'll hold down the soil and provide deer and other wildlife a gourmet banquet that will distract them from the crops on the rest of the farm.

The 20 acres he has submitted qualify for a 1-year-old state conservation program designed to enhance the federal one. The state program provides extra money, up to $100 an acre, to farmers who sign up land that is within 1,000 feet of a waterway or in a protected well-head area.

Weaver said the parcel he chose is veined with streams and a perfect candidate for a conservation program.

"It's within 1,000 feet of every stream imaginable," Weaver said. "It was the ideal property to go ahead and set aside.

"We had a lot of problems with deer, a lot of problems getting in with the size of the equipment. It's kind of an isolated area," he said.

Drought hit farmers hard last year and hit some in other parts of the state this year. But this year's risk for farmers is low grain prices caused by the Asian financial crisis. Asia is a major importer of American grain.

For farmers who have been hit with two bad years in a row, the program could be one way to get money back on land that isn't producing enough to break even. Weaver said no one makes much money off conservation programs but, in some cases, farmers were losing money by planting fields that wouldn't produce or would be devoured by deer.

"Basically, you're swapping dollars," Weaver said.

Pub Date: 11/24/98

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