County’s share of conservation payments exceeds $1 million

Written by ED MERRIMAN, Baker City Herald October 13, 2008 03:50 pm

Over the next few weeks, nearly $28 million in payments is being disbursed to Oregon farmers and ranchers participating in conservation programs, according to Larry Frey, state executive director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Oregon.

Of that statewide total, about $1.1 million will go to farmers and ranchers in Baker County, said Trent Luschen, Baker County FSA executive director.

Luschen said the program works cooperatively with producers to conserve soil and enhance water quality in streams and rivers, as well as wildlife habitat and air quality.

Nationwide, more than $1.7 billion in conservation payments are being made by FSA on 34.7 million acres across the country.

The payments announced Wednesday are annual rental payments earned on Oregon’s 563,592 acres enrolled in fiscal year 2008 in USDA conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and its predecessor, the Continuous Sign-Up Program.

Luschen said checks mailed out this week went to growers signed up under all three conservation programs administered by the FSA.

“In Baker County, we have quite a bit of land enrolled in CREP, which is for land around bodies of water,” Luschen said. “We have 3,530 acres in CREP and 1,042 acres in CRP.”

More than three times as much land in Baker County is enrolled in CREP, compared to the CRP, due to differences in the two programs, he said.

CREP is designed for land around bodies of water, including marginal pastureland common in Baker County, whereas the regular CRP priorities target highly erodible cropland and soil types, which are not as common in Baker County as they are in other areas, Luschen said. 

Enrollment priority under both of those conservation programs are given to land that is either highly erodible, contributes to a serious water quality problem, provides important wildlife habitat or provides other substantial environmental benefits, Luschen said.

 Oregon producers holding 4,179 contracts on 2,201 farms will receive an average of $12,678 per farm or $49.51 per acre.  The number of contracts is higher than the number of farms because producers may have multiple contracts on a single farm.

Other payments are made throughout the year, including a 50 percent reimbursement of expenses for establishing cover, and incentive payments for enrolling eligible conservation practices, such as wetland restorations and conservation buffers.

Luschen said the voluntary program helps agricultural producers safeguard environmentally sensitive land.

Producers enroll in conservation programs and perform approved conservation work, such as planting long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve water quality, making land improvements to control erosion from water and wind, and enhancing habitats for waterfowl and wildlife. In return, Luschen said, the USDA provides producers with rental payments. Luschen said contract commitments for all three conservation programs are for 10 to 15 years.

For more information visit the FSA’s Web site at www.fsa.usda.gov/or or call Luschen at the FSA office in Baker City at 523-7121 ext. 106.