The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Department of Agriculture have raised $50 million in federal and state tax funding to encourage farmers and ranchers to set aside land for nutrient runoff prevention and protection of water quality.
Jamie Diebal, program specialist at the Illinois State Farm Service Agency, said the money will be used to bring back the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The program pays rents to farmers and ranchers who convert cropland into buffers for river banks for the purposes of environmental protection, soil erosion prevention measures and wetland restoration.
Since the application process opened on June 15, FSA offices have received many calls from farmers wishing to enroll in CREP, Diebal said.
“We have worked very hard to get CREP operational again,” Diebal said. “The producers are really delighted to find the CREP.”
The program was discontinued in 2015 due to lack of state funding.
CREP helps Illinois meet federal guidelines for clean water protection and provides farmers with a way to supplement their income. Producers who sign up for the program get a 25% incentive on the rental rate, she said.
“It’s a win for all of us,” added Diebal.
Farmers can use their marginal land to generate a guaranteed annual income, she said.
“If the land is frequently flooded and maybe it doesn’t get a crop every year, or maybe it has had water on it, then it’s not a high production area, this is the type of land that growers want to put in the CRP,” Diebal said. said.
Unlike the well-known Conserve Reserve Programs (CRPs) which cap land rent at $300 per acre, there is no cap on CREP lease payments.
“For growers in Illinois, that’s a good thing because we have really good soil here,” Diebal said. “Growers can get the rate their soil type qualifies for.”
To qualify for the program, the land must have a history of cultivation and must be located in the Illinois River or Kaskaskia River watersheds. Producers commit to a 10 to 15 year commitment to keep the land out of agricultural production.
“These are areas that can be flooded frequently,” Diebal said. “CREP is taking the land out of production and putting it into some sort of conservation use hedge.”
Participants who implement nutrient loss mitigation and reduction strategies are eligible for incentives and technical support, she said.
“We will help the grower establish grasses or trees or a conservative use cover,” Diebal said.
The federal government pays half of the establishment costs for mitigation and the state pays the remaining 50% of this cost.
“By taking the land out of production, we’re preventing excess nutrients and nitrates from entering our streams and rivers,” Diebal said.
Filter strips and wooded buffers prevent soil erosion and prevent sediment from entering streams and rivers. CREP also assists landowners in the development and protection of wetlands.
“These efforts are helping to reduce runoff, protect our precious soil and improve wildlife habitat,” IDNR Director Colleen Callahan said in a statement.
This article originally appeared on The Center Square.