By Brian Musser
If you’re considering allowing Conservation Reserve Program acres to expire this fall, take advantage of the opportunity and start a soil health system. The first step is to discuss your CRP contract with the Farm Service Agency to fully evaluate your options within CRP.
Some discussion topics should include your current CRP contract requirements, your eligibility for other suitable CRP practices and restrictions for expiring CRP contracts.
After you’ve spoken with FSA about your current CRP contract, your next step should be to discuss strategies to effectively transition your CRP acres to a soil health system with your local conservation staff. Depending on where you live, you may have access to professionals with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s Division of Soil Conservation or a county soil and water conservation district.
Tips to discuss with your local conservation staff that will help you have a successful transition from CRP to a soil health system include effective crop rotation to transition from CRP ground and how to collect soil samples to understand current soil fertility. You will also want to discuss use of cover crops to transition to cropland, managing potential pests that could carry over from CRP ground and the use of no-till to minimize soil disturbance through the transition.
After 10 or more years of CRP ground cover, soils will have established quality structure, pore space and organic matter. All these improve nutrient and water availability to row crops. Soils from CRP ground cover already have well-established soil biology that can improve nutrient availability, and suppress pest and weed pressure.
The goal in transitioning from CRP to row cropping should be to minimize the effect on these soil health benefits that you built up in your soil while it was in CRP.
Musser is a district conservationist with the NRCS. He is part of the Indiana Conservation Partnership team that provides valuable conservation information for readers.