FSA Helps Beekeeper Share Passion for Honeybees

Reiger Standing

Michigan Beekeeper, Steve Reiger, lost 38 percent of his colonies in 2014 due to the unusually cold winter and Colony Collapse Disorder. Reiger used a Farm Service Agency disaster assistance program to replace the colonies he lost.

By Paula Blough, Michigan FSA Program Technician

Steve Reiger has been captivated by bees since he was a young boy. So it is no surprise that he now has more than 100 colonies, received his Master beekeeper certification and is a mentor to other beekeepers.

Reiger, a beekeeper in Muir, Mich., gained his love of bees from his grandfather’s neighbor who kept honeybees on his property. “He lifted off the top [of the hive], and I looked, and here’s 20 to 30 thousand bees on the top,” said Reiger. “They didn’t buzz out after me or anything, and I thought that was quite fascinating.” Continue reading

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Colorado Ranchers Thankful for USDA’s Emergency Haying and Grazing Program

Sustains Herds During Severe and Persistent Drought

Livestock producers face tough business decisions on a daily basis. However, 2012 left many of the country’s livestock producers facing the ultimate decision – liquidate or figure out a way to survive.

As ranchers across the state planned to graze their livestock through the spring and summer, they found their pastures scorched by the hot sun. And their ponds were dry.

To help Colorado ranchers cope with the epic drought, ranchers were allowed to hay or graze certain contract acres enrolled in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The emergency haying and grazing provisions under the CRP program provided relief to livestock producers in areas affected by the severe drought.

One Colorado cattle rancher who took advantage of the emergency grazing provisions was Jeremiah Liebl of JLD General Partnership.

Colorado rancher Jeremiah Liebl

Colorado rancher Jeremiah Liebl

The JLD operation typically grazes an average of 160 mother cows on approximately 4,000 acres of grass while supplementing with feed through the winter as needed.  2011 was a dry year, causing below normal, fragile pasture regrowth in 2012. That next year was exceptionally dry as well. By June 2012, the ranchers had utilized most of their pasture stocks, which in a typical year would last until December.

“When the emergency grazing program was announced, we were ready to take advantage of the opportunity to give our pastures a much needed rest,” Liebl said.

Liebl moved his entire herd onto 868 acres of CRP land that adjoined some of their grazing pasture. The use of the CRP emergency grazing, along with supplementation of alfalfa and protein, allowed JLD to keep its herd on grass until mid-October 2012. This saved the operation from taking more drastic measures that could affect the ranchers’ bottom line.

“The emergency grazing program has helped us maintain the majority of our herd through severely dry conditions,” Liebl said. “Grazing the CRP land in 2012 allowed us to maintain our herd in good condition and let our pastures regrow.”

Colorado rancher Rex Barlow

Colorado rancher Rex Barlow

Like Liebl, Colorado rancher Rex Barlow’s native grass pastures became stressed after the dry conditions of 2011. He had reduced the number of cattle grazing, but his pastures needed time to recover. Barlow also took advantage of the emergency grazing provisions in 2012 and moved part of his herd to CRP acreage for 30 days to minimize the overall impact on his pastures for the remainder of the year.

“The benefit to us was that we were able to hold on to our base cow herd and have more grass going into the growing season, and hopefully, stronger native grasses this season,” Barlow said.

Although ranchers Liebl and Barlow both took advantage of the emergency grazing provisions, there are also provisions for emergency haying of CRP.  The emergency haying and grazing provisions authorize producers to use the CRP acreage for grazing their own livestock or producing their own hay. It also makes it possible to grant another livestock producer use of the CRP acreage for the purpose of haying or grazing.

CRP, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015, is among the largest private lands programs for conservation used extensively throughout the United States to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality and provide wildlife habitat.

It is a voluntary program that allows eligible landowners to receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of their 10-to-15-year contracts.

Since being established on December 23, 1985, CRP has helped prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding and protected more than 170,000 stream miles with riparian and grass buffers, more than 100,000 acres of bottomland hardwood trees, nearly 300,000 acres of flood-plain wetlands, and 250,000 acres each for duck nesting habitat and upland bird habitat.

2015 marks the 30th Anniversary of CRP. For an interactive tour of CRP success stories from across the U.S., please visit the FSA CRP 30th Anniversary website at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/CRPis30.

To find your local USDA Service Center, please visit http://offices.usda.gov.

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Virginia Producer uses USDA Conservation Program to Protect Livestock


Virginia producer, Max Whitlock, sees the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) as a risk management tool in addition to a conservation program. While the program benefits include cleaner water in the streams and increased wildlife habitat, it also means keeping his cattle safe and away from the dangerous edges of the marshy stream bank.

Farming is a risky business and like most, Virginia producer Melvin “Max” Whitlock has experienced his fair share of livestock losses. Over the course of the last several years, Whitlock had the misfortune of losing two calves to the marshy stream edges on his property, and knew he had do something to protect his investment.

Whitlock, a retired firefighter, runs a 40-head cow-calf operation near Blackstone in Nottoway County that he purchased almost 17 years ago. The 107-acre farm consists of ground for hay, pasture, wooded areas and streams. Continue reading

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USDA Helps Fifth-Generation Tree Farm Recover from Hurricane Katrina

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The Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP) helped Louisiana tree farm operator, Marilyn Sheridan, reforest 200 acres of lost timber that was flattened by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Pictured from left to right: Theron Graves, County Executive Director for Washington and St. Tammany Parishes, Sheridan and Bret Gardner, Sheridan’s son.

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast flattening Marilyn Sheridan’s fifth-generation virgin timber farm near Bogalusa in Washington Parish, Louisiana. The aftermath of this tropical storm left residents like Sheridan in desperate need of assistance.

“I watched as our life was being destroyed by this hurricane,” said Sheridan. “Virgin Pine trees were ripped straight out of the ground – roots and all. There was no electricity after the storm for weeks; we couldn’t even get out of the driveway to leave because it was so full of trees.” Continue reading

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USDA Conservation Program Credited with Keeping Sage-Grouse Off Endangered List


Michel Ruud, executive director of Washington state’s Douglas County Farm Service Agency, and John Cotton, with Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Service check on forb survival on a field enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) State Acres for Wildlife (SAFE) project. This SAFE project area gives Douglas County landowners an incentive to plant native grasses and forbs which serve as a nesting ground for the diminishing sage-grouse population.

Conservation Reserve Program Yielding Results in Washington State 

Editor’s note: The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife assisted with the development of this article.

Washington state’s sage-grouse population has been on the decline since 1985, but for the past five years Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and its State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program have helped to establish improved sage-grouse nesting habitats. As a result, the county has become one of only a handful across the nation with an increase in sage-grouse populations during the past 25 years.

The SAFE program has proven to be popular with local landowners. In fact, in May 2010, during the initial sign-up period, Douglas County reached the enrollment cap of 38,000 acres on the first day, with some landowners camping outside the FSA office to ensure they were able to participate. Continue reading

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USDA Conservation Program Helps Reduce Flooding Concerns along Tennessee’s Red River


Tennessee’s Brendan Finucane utilizes CRP and converted crop acreage that was prone to flooding and subject to debris from the adjacent Red River into native grasses. The result was less cleanup work for him at planting time and more wildlife on his farm.

Like every farmer, Brendan Finucane needs rain to transform the seeds he plants into a bountiful harvest.  For Finucane, and others who farm along the Red River in Tennessee’s northeast Robertson County, too much rain during the growing season brings the constant threat of flooding and loss of thousands of dollars of farm income.

Finucane had suffered lower yields and even total crop losses on the acreage near the river in three out of the last 10 of years. These circumstances led Finucane to his local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office for suggestions on how he could better use and protect the land.

Continue reading

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USDA Conservation Program Keeping Puerto Rico Water Sources Clean

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Through USDA Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Puerto Rico’s Moises Velez-Santiago has protected his farm’s watershed, improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat.

Moises Velez-Santiago has been farming in Puerto Rico nearly three decades and understands the important role farming can play in protecting water quality for the island’s 3.5 million residents. Through the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Velez-Santiago has strived to obtain a balance of environmental conservation and crop production.

He has been working the land on his current 58-acre farm for 28 years where he grows and cultivates coffee, plantains and oranges. Continue reading

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USDA Farm Service Agency Hails Two Environmental Milestones in One Year: The 30th Anniversary of the Conservation Reserve Program, and 1 Million Acres Enrolled in its Wildlife Protection Offshoot.

North Dakota farmer, Harry Schlenker, enrolled the 1 millionth acre in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) when he enrolled 312 acres in LaMoure County.


By: Dan Janes, Communications Coordinator and GIS Management Analyst, North Dakota Farm Service Agency

In addition to celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), also recently observed 1 million acres enrolled in a subset of the program which protects wildlife, with the milestone occurring in the State of North Dakota. Continue reading

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Pollinator Habitat Not Just for Bees

by Dan Janes, Communications Coordinator and GIS Management Analyst, North Dakota Farm Service Agency

Bruce Pantzke's CRP enhanced with pollinator habitat also provides vital nesting cover for both upland game and waterfowl.

Bruce Pantzke’s CRP enhanced with pollinator habitat also provides vital nesting cover for both upland game and waterfowl.

When most people think of pollinator habitat, they think of bees and butterflies.  Bruce Pantzke is thinking of pheasants.  “The diversity of plants in a pollinator mix attracts a lot of beneficial insects, which in turn provides a great food source for pheasant chicks, and it provides great nesting habitat,” Pantzke said.

Pantzke first heard about the benefits of pollinator habitats through Pheasants Forever at the annual Pheasant Fest meeting.  When he offered land on his farm near Fort Ransom, North Dakota, under a general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup, he opted to enhance the offered acres with pollinator habitat to improve the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) that Farm Service Agency (FSA) uses to rank the land, increasing the chance that his offer would be accepted.

Once the CRP offer was accepted, Pantzke enlisted the help of Susan Muske, district manager for the LaMoure County Soil Conservation District to get the pollinator habitat established.   “It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of time, but it’s definitely worth it.  And Bruce has been very devoted to making this work,” Muske said. “Patience is really important, because it can take two or three, even five years for some of these plants to become established.”

One of the challenges Pantzke has faced has been eliminating introduced brome grasses and getting native grasses and wildflowers to take hold.  Pantzke said that good seedbed preparation is key.  “Weed control can be a challenge, but you have to change how you think about weeds and realize that as long as they are not getting out of hand, they’re part of the diversity.  After all, you don’t want to kill the good with the bad.”

Seed heads from last year’s purple coneflower dot a 30-acre field that was part of Pantzke’s CRP offer.  Later in the summer, the field will be covered with blanketflower, providing a great benefit to the honeybees flying from hives located across the gravel road.  “I don’t doubt that those hives are located there because of this field,” Pantzke said.  Shortly after pointing out the hives, a blue-winged teal bursts from the grass, revealing a clutch of 8 eggs.

“It’s a domino effect,” Muske said, referring to the diverse wildlife utilizing the pollinator habitats that Pantzke has established.  As the diversity of the plant community increases, a wider range of animals are able to make use of the land, from songbirds and upland game to waterfowl and large mammals like white-tailed deer.



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USDA Conservation Program Expands Pollinator Habitat in Michigan

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Michigan landowners, Paul and Becky Rogers, used a USDA conservation program to convert 14 acres of land in Kent County to a pollinator habitat that is home to more than 50 species of wild bees that supplement fruit and vegetable pollination in the state’s fruit ridge.

By:  Brian Buehler, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Public Affairs Specialist

Paul and Becky Rogers enjoy much more than flowers on their land in Kent County after converting 14 acres to native pollinator habitat eight years ago through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

After learning that the SAFE program helps landowners establish diverse grassland and pollinator habitats, the Rogers were immediately interested. Continue reading

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