Program aims to restore longleaf pine

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A government program to restore longleaf pine in nine statescould benefit area farmers and sportsmen.

The new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Longleaf PineInitiative was announced earlier this week.

CRP is a voluntary program that provides annual rental paymentsand cost-share assistance to farmers who plant longleaf pine in aneffort to restore the species to Mississippi and eight other states- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, SouthCarolina, Texas and Virginia.

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All Southwest Mississippi counties are eligible for theprogram.

Registration to participate, however, does not begin until Dec.1 at local Farm Service Agency offices. Registration will continueuntil Mississippi has achieved its allocation of 21,500 acres orDec. 31, 2007.

J.B. Holloway, an agricultural program specialist for the FSA inJackson, said there are no individual county limitations andcounties will continue to be served until the state reaches itsacreage allocation.

“It will pretty much be first come, first serve,” he said. “Oncewe begin the sign-up we’ll see what interest is there and then wemight be able to estimate when we’ll achieve that limit.”

Information on the new federal program is still trickling downto the states and local offices, Holloway said.

“We don’t have any information on it here yet,” said Beth Wilsonat the Brookhaven FSA office.

The goal of the program is to restore 250,000 acres of dwindlinglongleaf pine to its native habitat. Longleaf pine was once thedominant tree species on an estimated 60 million acres and in themix of species on another 30 million acres along the coastal plainfrom east Texas to the Carolinas, the mountains of Alabama andnorthwest Georgia and the Virginia Piedmont However, in the pastcentury the pine stands have declined to fewer than four millionacres of their historic range.

“There’s a shortage of longleaf pine in the nation and thisprogram is designed to reestablish those plantations in the south,”Holloway said.

Direct benefits from the program will aid farmers and sportsmen,he said.

FSA makes annual rental payments based on the value of the landand provides cost-share assistance up to 50 percent of theparticipant’s costs to establish the CRP practices. Contracts rangefrom 10 to 15 years.

“Those two incentives may cause an increase in interest in theprogram,” Holloway said.

Although farmers may benefit from the program economically,sportsmen also gain through the program because promotes a strongerecosystem with more numerous and diverse wildlife.

“The wildlife benefits have proven to increase with longleafpines,” Holloway said.

The Mississippi CRP has approximately 18,0000 contracts coveringmore than 900,000 acres, he said. Grass, loblolly pines, hardwoodsand wildlife habitat are the four most common types of CRP.