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From CRP Into ’Flowers

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
filed under: Minimum Till/No-Till

     For as long as Josh Greff can remember, this particular plot of southwestern North Dakota land has been CRP land.Josh Greff

     The 240-acres near Regent have been enrolled in the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program remove land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.  Contracts are for 10-15 years, which means the land is left untouched for that time.  The goal is to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and develop wildlife habitat. As of 2021, the FSA reports 5.3 million acres of land were enrolled in CRP.
     As CRP contracts end, producers have to decide whether they’ll re-enroll the land or begin farming and ranching it again.
     Greff decided it was time to start growing crops on this land again.  He’s been treating this 240-acre field as a trial of sorts.  “We went big,” Greff laughs. “I guess that is a heck of a trial!  But we had to put something on it.  We figured, ‘Why not try ’flowers?’ ”
     As of an early August visit, Greff was pretty pleased with his decision to plant oilseed sunflower on this ground.  “The leaves on them look nice yet, and they’re starting to fill in,” he noted while examining the plants.  And although the plants were a little short, he was hopeful this would be a good crop, especially in the drought conditions.
     And what a drought it’s been!  There was very little snowfall over the winter, and Spring 2021 was exceptionally dry. Greff’s southwest North Dakota farm did get more rain than other parts of the state, but the area has remained in a severe drought, which means pasture and rangeland is dry, hay yields are low, and soil moisture is low.
     That low soil moisture hasn’t kept his sunflower from growing, though.  The plants been able to tap into deeper moisture that may have been out of reach for other crops.  Plus, Greff says, that deep taproot has proven key in breaking up this soil — soil that hasn’t been touched for multiple years.
     “We know sunflower has a good taproot, so we figured we’d use this crop to break it up,” he explains.
Josh Greff
Josh Greff

     Greff employed a vertical tiller to break up the CRP ground in order to plant the ’flowers.  “We used that to kind of loosen up the soil and then level it a little bit.  Then we planted right into it. We have probably the nicest stands we have out of any of our ’flowers,” he observed in August.
     In fact, of all the sunflower acreage he planted in 2021, Greff says this field might yield just as good, if not better, than his other sunflower fields.  “That would be phenomenal for just breaking ground.”
     As more of his CRP contracts expire, Greff says he’ll take the lessons he learned on this 2021 field, and plant sunflower on that other CRP land as well.
     He says he’s tried several different crops as his land comes out of CRP.  None have yielded as well as he expects these ’flowers will.
     Though not harvested as of this writing, by mid-October Greff was still optimistic about yields he might see on this CRP-turned-sunflower field. — Jody Kerzman
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