Delaware farmers interested in protecting and restoring their wetlands or grasslands are encouraged to apply for financial assistance through the federal Wetlands Reserve Program and Grassland Reserve Program. Applicants should submit their applications no later than Friday, March 15, to their local U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service office to be considered for funding in fiscal year 2013.
The Wetlands Reserve Program provides an opportunity for landowners to receive financial assistance to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property. WRP helps improve water quality by filtering sediment and chemicals, recharging groundwater and more. Wetlands also provide food and shelter for migratory birds and other wetland-dependent species.
WRP offers landowners three enrollment options: permanent and 30-year easements, or 10-year restoration agreements to retire wet, marginal farmland and woodlands and restore them to their original wetland function. The 2013 permanent easement payment rates include 100 percent of the cost of restoration and pay $3,200/acre for woodland and $4,000/acre for cropland in Kent and Sussex counties, and $3,200/acre for woodland and $5,000/acre for cropland in New Castle County.
For 30-year easements, applicants may receive 75 percent of the permanent easement value and up to 75 percent of the cost of restoration. Delaware NRCS has enrolled nearly 600 acres in WRP through 10 conservation easements and a restoration agreement from 2009-2012, investing $1.7 million in enrolled acres.
The Grassland Reserve Program helps landowners restore and protect grassland, pastureland and certain other lands, and provides assistance for rehabilitating grasslands. GRP will protect vulnerable grasslands from conversion to cropland or other uses.
GRP offers producers permanent easements and rental agreements of 10, 15 or 20 years. For permanent easements, USDA bases payments on the fair market value of the property, less the grazing value. The permanent easement payment rate for 2013 is capped at $5,000/acre.
For rental agreements, USDA pays $13/acre in Kent County, $13.50/acre in New Castle County and $15/acre in Sussex County in annual payments for the length of the agreement. For restoration agreements, USDA pays up to 50 percent of the restoration costs on grassland and shrubland.
Applications for WRP and GRP are accepted year-round as it is a continuous sign-up. Applications received before March 15 will be considered first for funding; applications received after this date will be considered for future funding periods.
To participate in WRP or GRP, land offers must be privately owned. Landowners voluntarily limit future use of the land yet retain private ownership.
Interested landowners are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center for more information. In Sussex County, call 302-856-3990, Ext. 3; in Kent County, call 302-741-2600, Ext. 3; or go to www.de.nrcs.usda.gov.