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Converting 160ac pasture to wildlife mecca

smithhunter1975

Active Member
Hello All. My grandfather/father own a cattle farm in SE Iowa and are going to be selling off the cattle soon to "retire". A portion of this farm is a square 160ac rolling hill pasture with small creek rolling through it. Typical hilly pasture with some flat ridges, ravines, etc. Not too much on it currently for trees except for a thin line along the creek but it does have pretty decent timber bordering to the north and south. I am super excited to start from scratch and "design" the perfect farm with lots of habitat diversity. I am considering hiring a consultant to help draw up a plan for the perfect farm but would appreciate hearing your thoughts as well.

We really would like to find some CRP or similar ways to get some income off this farm so that it doesn't end up being rented out to someone else for pasture. We have started some preliminary conversation with FSA office but not getting any great prospects other than to put the ditches/draws in a buffer strip program for a fairly low rental rate. There is a "grasslands" program for CRP but doesn't sound like Iowa does much with it, mainly Kansas and some of the other prairie states. My idea is to tear up the sod and farm the ridge tops for the sole purpose of getting crop history eligibility for CRP but not sure the FSA is going to let us do this. Does anybody have any ideas or experience with how we can expire the pasture and get some income off this farm while at the same improving deer/turkey habitat?
 

Hardwood11

It is going to be a good fall!
I think you are probably on the right track with farming what you can. Let the rest grow up thick and then plant trees where you can …

Maybe an orchard ? Sounds fun ! Good luck. I’ve done it in Minnesota with 148 acres and it’s been a lifetime of enjoyment!
 
Talk with your local NRCS office, usually they have a farm bill biologist on staff. They're usually in the same building as the FSA and work in tandem on some things, but NRCS will be much more knowledgeable about CRP-type programs. There's also EQIP to look into. Unfortunately without cropping history, your options may be very limited as you mentioned. You may be limited to programs that offer financial assistance for habitat work, but no annual payments.

Even if you tear up the sod and start farming history, it could be 5-8+ years before you qualify for CRP based off of the Farm Bill. Example- a buddy bought a farm from a guy who tore out some small fields and had created crop history starting in 2016 or 2017, I cant remember exactly. It still won't qualify for CRP until the next Farm Bill is signed because it's not simply the number of years of history (which you will hear people commonly say), but the number of years that fall within the particular date range dictated in the current FB. Classic gubamint BS.

Good luck. You've likely got a golden opportunity if you can disregard or minimize the annual income factor. I'd recommend talking to an NRCS farm bill biologist and going from there. Keep us posted!
 

Hardwood11

It is going to be a good fall!
How many crop land acres can you get ? CRP is not worth it, unless it’s Continous or General CRP. Riparian buffer on pasture ground is ok, but the payment is low !
 

smithhunter1975

Active Member
Thanks all for the replies and please keep them coming. CottonwoodCanyon is right that the eligibility isn't for current years, it is for years within an old window so it would be 8+ years before it would be eligible even if it could. Hardwood, I've not calculated how many acres could be farmed, but regardless some of them would be a PIA to farm because of the ditches and access. One of those things that it may be worth the hassle for a few years to get it eligible for the long term CRP but probably not something that would be desirable long term. Getting large equipment (and grain wagons) in/out would be rough.
 

Snail3496

New Member
This sounds like a blast. I am a couple years in on turning 53 acres over to habitat that was in production. I got lucky and was able to get nearly half into continuous CRP (CP2 mix) at an even higher per acre price than the local farmers would give me.

My 2 cents for you - what could become legit tillable, do it. What can't be farmed, go crazy with bare root oaks, conifers, plum, switch etc.. Go crazy with it. Pick what would be the absolute best stands/blind locations based on access & wind in a perfect world and lay everything out with that in mind.

What is the worst that can happen with making the farmable ground productive? The rent pays your taxes, you build a respectable trail system through the place, and your deer get fed all summer and early fall? You might even get into CRP one day. It would surely create some nice appreciation per acre too. Win, win, win
 

Daver

PMA Member
Sounds very intriguing and you can turn acres like that into a very productive hunting farm soon. However, if I am understanding your situation correctly...you are not in full control of what happens there...true??

If so, I would be leery of "investing" too much time/money only for another family member(s) to "show up" and say potentially that they are looking forward to using Grandpa's farm as a: 1. An ATV park for their friends, etc. 2. A hunting spot for the fam that somehow has you doing the work and someone else doing the "shooting", etc. 3. Fenced acres for their llamas, etc. 4. Etc, etc, etc.

Beyond that though...you could have a blast setting something like that up. In addition to getting advice from people here...I would recommend getting "on the ground" advice from either a consultant and/or someone who has experience in this. Since you are at the beginning stages you are in the perfect position to start out right.

Unlike someone like myself...I scuffled along for a few years not really knowing what I was doing, etc. Thankfully, I got to know Dbltree(Paul Knox) and got on a good path...but not before fluffing away several years. (I have had my place for 20 years now, FYI.) Good luck...keep asking questions.
 

Nrharris

Well-Known Member
We are doing something similar. We have 120 acres of pasture with our farm ground on 3 sides of it. Roughly half of it has some trees on it and we built a 6.6 acre pond in the middle of it. We were able to farm around 50 acres of what was open pasture. At some point it had been farmed and had a corn base so we didn't need permission to break it out. My family has owned it since the early 70s and has been pasture at least that long. We hope to put at least some of the 50 acres into crp someday, but it grew 73 bpa soybeans this year so not in a hurry to enroll. The rest of the timber I am going to plant as many trees and shrubs and natives to make it as thick as possible. Also have 3.5-4 acres of food plots. It's only been 2 years since cattle were out here and it's already improved a ton. Good luck.
 

smithhunter1975

Active Member
Nrharris, I've read your thread about your property transformation and about your dad harvesting a great deer! I actually thought about all of that when I wrote this. Daver, you bring up great points/questions. The family has talked about this and I've gotten about 90% approval to have free reigns to take this over and make it happen. The lacking 10% is related to being able to get any income off of any programs. My only competition would be to someone paying rent for the pasture to graze cattle. If we could come up with CRP or other payments to match up to what pasture rent would be it would be a no-brainer. Nobody else in the family is into hobbies that would propose competing interests (hunting, atv's, etc) so I think I'm good there. Thanks again all for input and comments, very much appreciated.
 

Jbohn

Well-Known Member
Hello All. My grandfather/father own a cattle farm in SE Iowa and are going to be selling off the cattle soon to "retire". A portion of this farm is a square 160ac rolling hill pasture with small creek rolling through it. Typical hilly pasture with some flat ridges, ravines, etc. Not too much on it currently for trees except for a thin line along the creek but it does have pretty decent timber bordering to the north and south. I am super excited to start from scratch and "design" the perfect farm with lots of habitat diversity. I am considering hiring a consultant to help draw up a plan for the perfect farm but would appreciate hearing your thoughts as well.

We really would like to find some CRP or similar ways to get some income off this farm so that it doesn't end up being rented out to someone else for pasture. We have started some preliminary conversation with FSA office but not getting any great prospects other than to put the ditches/draws in a buffer strip program for a fairly low rental rate. There is a "grasslands" program for CRP but doesn't sound like Iowa does much with it, mainly Kansas and some of the other prairie states. My idea is to tear up the sod and farm the ridge tops for the sole purpose of getting crop history eligibility for CRP but not sure the FSA is going to let us do this. Does anybody have any ideas or experience with how we can expire the pasture and get some income off this farm while at the same improving deer/turkey habitat?


I know you got a buddy to the south would help if you need him :)
 

smithhunter1975

Active Member
I got some EQIP funding on the farm I own. It did a great job of covering the cost to do the spraying and seeding but no income/rent. That will be the backup plan if we cannot get into a program that has a rental payment.
 

smithhunter1975

Active Member
Check into grasslands program. It pays less than CRP but is an option for your situation (no row crop history)
We have done some initial checking with FSA office about grassland and were told that it isn’t really used in Iowa. Told it was used in the prairie states like kansas and nebraska. Have you seen or heard of it in Iowa?
 

Hardwood11

It is going to be a good fall!
Grassland CRP payment was not much when I looked into it. I Passed

If I remember correctly, alfalfa qualifies for cropping history and it can be a magnet for deer, and fits in well on a former pasture farm.
 

BearCreek

Member
As you are probably aware, your options for generating income are fairly limited on land that was exclusively pasture. You won't have the cropping history for the foreseeable future, but I like the idea of alfalfa, I would make sure that it will create the proper cropping history before installing it. Alfalfa can generate decent income and feeds a lot of deer/attracts turkey.
Daver's comment was particularly relevant. Your post sounds as if someone else is really making the decision as to how much income needs to be generated. Are you going to own this land eventually? Who will be receiving the income? From my perspective, you need to have a clear and irrevocable path to ownership before investing your time into this property.
If you have any sibling or relative that is in line to obtain ownership, you better sort that out now. Those uninterested family members often become very interested in selling the land when the time comes. Not trying to be Debby Downer, but I see this play out daily.
 

Asclepias

New Member
Before you tear up any pasture, I would definitely have a biological assessment completed. There is a high probability that what you would be plowing up is remnant prairie, even if it is highly disturbed. It is far easier and more ecologically beneficial to refurbish what is already present, then tear it apart and try and do a reconstruction with 1/3 the potential diversity. Another option that I have found highly effective is to have the cattle restricted to grazing just the month of May, maybe into June a bit. This puts the attack on the cool season grasses, gets a payment on head/day grazed, and frees up the warm season grassed and forbs from competition the rest of the growing season. This would also meet NRCS specs for a lot of different prescribed grazing/deferment payments. This can also be done with a single early season hay cutting.
 

Daver

PMA Member
As you are probably aware, your options for generating income are fairly limited on land that was exclusively pasture. You won't have the cropping history for the foreseeable future, but I like the idea of alfalfa, I would make sure that it will create the proper cropping history before installing it. Alfalfa can generate decent income and feeds a lot of deer/attracts turkey.
Daver's comment was particularly relevant. Your post sounds as if someone else is really making the decision as to how much income needs to be generated. Are you going to own this land eventually? Who will be receiving the income? From my perspective, you need to have a clear and irrevocable path to ownership before investing your time into this property.
If you have any sibling or relative that is in line to obtain ownership, you better sort that out now. Those uninterested family members often become very interested in selling the land when the time comes. Not trying to be Debby Downer, but I see this play out daily.
Thank you. I also did not want to be a Debby Downer, but I have seen a similar scenario play out a couple of different times...and they didn't end up well for the diligent soul in the family that had been dutifully "doing the work". That is why I wanted to add the cautionary note.

I'll also add that when family is involved it is rare that a mom or dad can tell another sibling "no thank you" when they come asking for "their" share of whatever...but it is, in my experience, virtually impossible for a grandparent to tell a grandchild "no". :) And...just because someone is not interested now...doesn't mean they will stay that way...especially if there is something in it for them.
 

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