Maine receives federal funds for conserving grassland

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FARMINGTON – The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are accepting applications for the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) between May 10 and June 11, 2010. The program is jointly administered by FSA and NRCS.

GRP is a voluntary program that helps landowners restore and protect grassland, pastureland and other lands, and provides assistance for rehabilitating grasslands and conserving water resources. “Enrollment of land in GRP will have a positive economic impact and improve environmental quality by preventing the conversion of grassland to other uses, including crop production and urban development,”

said Gary Raymond, county executive director for FSA in Franklin County. Nationally, privately-owned grassland and shrublands cover more than 525 million acres in the United States, with over 200,000 of those acres being in Maine.

“When properly managed, grasslands can result in cleaner water supplies, healthier riparian areas and reduced sediment loadings in streams and other water bodies,” said Paul Hersey, District Conservationist for NRCS in Franklin County. “In addition to being vital for the production of livestock forage and provide forage and habitat for maintaining healthy wildlife populations, these lands also add to the beauty of the landscape, provide scenic vistas and open space, provide for recreational activities and protect the soil from water and wind erosion.”

GRP offers producers several enrollment options: permanent easements, rental agreements (10, 15, or 20-year duration) and restoration agreements. For permanent easements, USDA makes a payment based on the lowest amount of either the fair market value of the property less the grazing value, the geographical cap as determined by NRCS, or the offered amount from the landowner. For rental agreements, USDA pays 75 percent of the grazing value in annual payments for the length of the agreement. For restoration agreements, USDA provides up to 50 percent of the restoration cost.

Applications will be accepted for grazing operations; protection of grassland, land that contains forbs, and shrubland at the greatest risk from the threat of conversion to uses other than grazing; plant and animal biodiversity; and restoration costs. However, priority will be given to expiring and/or expired CRP lands. Enrollment permits common grazing practices, haying, mowing, or harvesting for seed production, subject to certain restrictions. If enrolled lands support grazing livestock, participants are required to implement a grazing management plan approved by NRCS.

Sign up for GRP is available on a continuous basis. Landowners can sign up for this program at their local USDA Service Center. Applications that have been received by June 11, 2010 will be considered for funding in this ranking and evaluation period.

Additional information on GRP is available on the Web at www.me.nrcs.usda.gov/ or www.fsa.usda.gov.

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