The Conservation Reserve Program is a great way to turn portions of your tillable land into great wildlife habitat while still generating some income to support your efforts. We have enrolled in several different types of CRP in our creek bottom (pictured above) and have also enrolled two of our upland fields which were previously cropped but highly erodable. You can learn more details about all of the different CRP programs by contacting your local Private Lands Conservationist or Farm Services agent. The programs help pay for a portion of the expenses for implementing the practices involved.
The Boeuf Creek bottoms in the picture above is a great example of how the CRP program has helped improve our farm for wildlife. This bottoms was once a 60 acre monoculture of whatever crop was planted. Through the CRP program we have been able to turn portions of the field into wildlife habitat while still receiving the income lost by not planting those areas in crops. Three different programs were used in creating the diverse patchwork. The entire edge of the field along the creek was put into the CP-21 Filter Strip program. This allows you to create a 120′ wide strip measured from the bank of the creek and plant it in either native warm season grasses or trees. The purpose is to create a riparian border along the creek to reduce erosion and loss of soil during flooding. We planted a mixture of Indian Grass and Eastern Gamma Grass in this strip which is about 5 acres.
The areas in the picture above which are yellow due to the wildflowers blooming are enrolled in CP-33 Habitat Buffers. This program allows you to plant a 120′ wide strip of NWSG and wildflowers around all edges of the crop field specifically for wildlife habitat. In these strips we planted two grasses: Little Bluestem and Sideouts Grama, and eleven species of wildflowers: Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Black-Eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Illinois Bundleflower, Partridge Pea, False Wild Indigo, Ox-Eye Sunflower, Grey-Headed Coneflower, Prairie Coneflower, Purple Prairie Clover, and Showy Tick Trefoil. These strips totalled 17 acres. Also in these strips we have added several large brush piles made of cedar trees to create covey headquarters and escape cover for quail.
The third practice was a 6 acre wetlands area that was planted in Indian Grass and Big Bluestem. It is the grey looking area in the upper right hand corner of the picture. I can’t remember the CP number for this practice. This was a wet area that didn’t grow crops real well because in wet years they often got drowned out.
So, now instead of a 60 acre monoculture we have 28 acres of wildlife habitat around the borders. Not only has it improved conditions for a variety of animal species as you can see in the picture above it is also beautiful to look at throughout the year.
We also enrolled two of our upland fields in CP-2. These were both planted in NWSG and wildflowers as well. We also did edge feathering around the borders of the fields and were allowed to plant a small milo food plot in each one. These fields were 5 and 12 acres respectively.
There are practices which must be applied to the areas on a yearly basis. A third of each area must be disturbed each year by either prescribed burning, light discing, or a light application of herbicide. This helps to create brood rearing areas for quail by creating some bare ground and removing built up thatch.