Courier staff writer
MONTE VISTA — Valley farmers will have many options to participate in the new Rio Grande Basin Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) should the federal government authorize its spending this year.
On Thursday, Rio Grande Water Conservation District crop consultant Tim Davis shared the approved CREP program and its guidelines at Colorado State University (CSU) Extension 2013 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference in Monte Vista.
“The Rio Grande CREP program has been difficult, to say the least,” Davis said. “It could be the most difficult in the country. It is very complicated.”
CREP is an option under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that agricultural producers may use to voluntarily establish conservation practices on their land, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USD) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The project provides landowners and operators financial and technical assistance. Under this CREP, participants receive annual irrigated rental payments, cost share and incentive payments for voluntarily enrolling irrigated cropland into contracts and installing the approved conservation practices. The USDA also will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing the conservation practices.
Last September, during the 2012 Colorado Water Conservation Board Statewide Drought Conference, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar announced the new Rio Grande Basin CREP to help conserve irrigation water and reduce ground water withdrawal from the Rio Grande Basin.
Davis said the Rio Grande Basin program will target 40,000 acres within the Rio Grande Conservation District Subdistrict One; require a 14 to 15 year contract with the USDA and FSA; convert irrigated farmland to permanent cover for 15 years; and it will not permit irrigation on enrolled acres except to establish permanent cover.
The program, he said, aims to reduce agricultural water use by at least 60,000 acre-feet annually; improve the aquifer through voluntary incentive-based programs; increase streamflows in streams associated with the Rio Grande Basin within the project; reduce fertilizer and pesticide application over the total project area; restore and enhance wildlife habitat; and reduce energy consumption from an average of 144,704 kW per hour to less than 5,000 kW per pivot.
The program has specific enrollment criteria, Davis said. The criteria stipulates qualifying acreage must have been irrigated with a half-acre foot per acre within 24 months; enrolled in a voluntary fallowing program like the Subdistrict’s 2012 offering; or physically and legally capable of being irrigated at time of offer. Non-irrigated land is ineligible for the program.
The program also has re-vegetation requirements, Davis said. They include range site evaluations to ensure establishment of grasses is maximized based on conditions; a vegetative selection that will ensure long term coverage after irrigation is removed; possible planting of an annual cover crop before a permanent cover is established that will require irrigation.
The USDA FSA will contribute $175 per acre per year, which totals $2,625 over the approximate 15-year period, he said. The agencies will also fund 50 percent of the total cost of practice installation, roughly $100 an acre.
In addition, the Subdistrict will offer program incentives to meet non-federal funding and in-kind contribution requirements that must total 20 percent of the program’s total cost, Davis said. The Subdistrict will provide annual incentives; annual water retirement payment; bonus payments for acreage located in a specific area spanning between Del Norte and Monte Vista known as the Bonus Zone and for permanent water retirement; and services including monitoring, reporting and promotional efforts.
The Subdistrict, he said, will offer four incentive scenarios on top of the federal payments based on water retirement commitments:
•15 year water retirement outside of the Bonus Zone: Annual water retirement payment of $22 an acre a year for 15 years for a total of $330.
•15 year water retirement inside the Bonus Zone: Annual water retirement payment of $33 an acre a year for 15 years for a total of $495; an annual rental payment bonus of $10 an acre a year for 15 years for a total of $150; a one-time bonus payment of $100 an acre; and a one-time cover establishment bonus of up to $100 an acre barring it does not exceed the total cost of establishment. Grand total: $845 per acre.
•Permanent water retirement outside the Bonus Zone: Annual water retirement payment of $44 an acre a year for 15 years for a total of $660 and a permanent water retirement bonus of $200 an acre. Grand total: $860 per acre.
•Permanent water retirement inside the Bonus Zone: Annual water retirement payment of $66 an acre a year for 15 years for a total of $990; a permanent water retirement bonus of $200 per acre; an annual rental payment bonus of $10 an acre a year for 15 years for a total of $150; a one time bonus payment of $100 per acre; and a one time cover establishment bonus of $100 an acre barring it does not exceed the total cost of establishment. Grand total: $1,540 per acre.
Davis said the estimated program costs should all 40,000 Subdistrict acres enroll for the USDA FSA cost share and rental payments total $109,000,00. The Subdistrict will pay $27,345,565, and $4,000,000 will be spent on in-kind contributions. All costs combined, the program costs $140,345,565.
Once the USDA reauthorizes the FSA to accept national CRP acres that include CREP, eligible Valley farmers will be able to apply for the program at the FSA. The FSA will administer the program within Alamosa, Rio Grande and Alamosa counties, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources through the Division of Water Resources, the Subdistrict and other state and local CREP partners.