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Rancher uses USDA conservation program to build buffer, protect livestock

Rancher uses USDA conservation program to build buffer, protect livestock
Virginia rancher participates in USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to establish buffer and build fence for livestock

Beef producer Max Whitlock, who runs a 40-head cow-calf operation in Virginia has lost two calves over the past few years to marshy stream edges on his property.

Related: Grass, range and pasture eligible for USDA conservation incentives

Seeking a solution, Whitlock turned to the USDA to find a solution that would protect the livestock on his 107-acre farm, which consists of ground for hay, pasture, wooded areas and streams.

Virginia producer Max Whitlock sees the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program as a risk management tool. (USDA photo)

"I was out counting calves one day and came up short," said Whitlock. "I went out again the next day and spent a significant amount of time walking the pasture, but still couldn't find the missing calf. A couple days later I was walking along a wet area near the stream and there it was dead, stuck next to a big clump of swamp grass."

Whitlock received assistance from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to establish a riparian buffer, build fence to keep the cattle off the stream banks and install an alternate water source.

CREP targets high-priority conservation issues by forming a partnership between the federal government and state or tribal governments. Once a CREP agreement is established, landowners can receive annual rental payments in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from production and implementing acceptable conservation practices.

Whitlock received cost-share assistance from USDA and the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District to complete the improvements.

CREP is an offshoot of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program. Nationwide, more than 1.2 million acres from nearly 50,000 farms are enrolled in CREP.

In Whitlock's case, the conservation program is improving water quality in the streams and creating wildlife habitat, but also serves as a risk management tool, keeping his livestock safe by limiting preventable losses.

Related: Resources assist producers with Conservation Stewardship Program enrollment

"People ask me a lot about how CREP is working on my farms," said Whitlock. "I always say you can't put a dollar figure on prevention, but I do know I have not lost one animal to the mud since."

2015 marks the 30th Anniversary of CRP. For deeper look at the program, visit

Source: USDA FSA

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