The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of Kansas are partners in implementing a voluntary program to encourage Golden Belt farmers along the Arkansas River to decrease irrigation and take other steps to conserve water and help wildlife.
The plan is the establishment of a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to enroll up to 28,950 acres of agricultural land in Barton, Edwards, Finney, Ford, Gray, Hamilton, Kearny, Pawnee, Rice and Stafford counties to conserve and improve water resources and wildlife habitat through buffers, native grasses, shallow water areas for wildlife and the restoration of wetlands.
“This has never been popular in Barton County,” said Ron Klein, Barton County supervisory district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, of CREP. The region is already under an Intensive Groundwater Use Control Area and there are also other programs aimed at limiting irrigation.
“Farmers have become more efficient,” Klein said. But, more of an effort may be needed.
“We need to do what we can to conserve water,” he said. “What’s water really worth?”
The goal is to preserve the Ogallala Aquifer, he said. “We are doing everything we can to do that.”
This underground ocean is the lifeblood of the area, he said. The water shortage is more acute farther west, but it must be taken seriously here as well.
This is not a new program, Klein said. It is just being promoted now to garner more participation.
“We want to encourage this now,” Klein said. This is voluntary, but down the road, measures may become mandatory.
According to information from the USDA, CREP is a part of the USDA Conservation Reserve Program. CRP is a federally funded voluntary program that contracts with agricultural producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is not farmed, but used for conservation. In return, the Farm Service Agency provides participants with federal rental payments and cost-share assistance.
With CREP, high-priority conservation goals are identified by the state, and then federal funds are supplemented with non-federal funds.
Through the Kansas Upper Arkansas River CREP, federal and state resources are made available to program participants to voluntarily enroll in CRP for 14-year to 15-year contracts. Participants remove cropland from ag production, permanently retire the associated state water rights and convert the land to native grasses, trees and other vegetation.
Klein said this will conserve water resources, reduce agricultural chemicals and sediment entering Kansas Rivers and aquifers, reduce the use of irrigation water and energy, reduce erosion and sediment, boost water supplies in the Arkansas River and increase stream flow, and enhance habitat for a variety of land and water species.
Enrollment and eligibility requirements
Enrollment is on a continuous basis, the USDA reports. To be eligible, cropland must be located in the area, meet cropping criteria and be physically and legally capable of being planted in a crop. Landowners must own the water rights associated with all the irrigated cropland to be enrolled, and such water rights must be legally dismissible by the state.
CREP is another option under CRP that farmers and ranchers may select. Eligible producers may still enroll eligible land in CRP through general or continuous sign-up.
However, it provides additional benefits not available through general and/or continuous sign-up. Under this CREP, producers receive higher rental payments and have longer contract lengths.
Haying and grazing are not allowed during the CRP contract period unless authorized by USDA.
For more information on CREP, contact local the FSA office, 620-792-5329. To learn more about FSA conservation programs, visit fsa.usda.gov/conservation.