Monday, March 9, 2009

Partnership provides new incentive to retire farmland

HONOLULU -- Hawaii farmers and ranchers are getting a new incentive to protect environmentally sensitive lands, with the announcement today of a partnership between state and federal government.

The voluntary land retirement program, known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, will provide up to $270 an acre annually for those who set aside cropland for conservation and lesser amounts for pastureland. The program also pays up to half of the cost of installing conservation practices.

The total cost of the Hawaii State CREP over the life of the project is estimated at $67 million for a total enrollment of 15,000 acres. The state of Hawaii will contribute approximately 20 percent, or $13.4 million, as support of the overall program cost.

"USDA is proud to collaborate with the State of Hawaii on this important agreement that will improve the state's water quality and wildlife habitat. It will protect the Hawaiian Islands' vital watersheds and riparian areas on marginal pastureland and cropland," Farm Service Agency acting Administrator Carolyn Cooksie said in a statement.

The agreement is for the six main islands: Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai and Oahu. The goal is to enroll up to 15,000 acres of marginal pasture and cropland, with 2,000 of these acres being targeted for enrollment as forest restoration practices and 13,000 acres targeted for wetland resources practices.

The agreement is aimed at improving water quality in stream systems, increasing groundwater recharge, restoring forests and native species' habitats, controlling the spread of invasive species and enhancing near shore coastal and coral reef health.

Hawaii departments of Land and Natural Resources, Agriculture, Health and the University of Hawaii system will join with local Watershed Partnerships and other organizations to support the goals of Hawaii CREP and will offer incentives to participants for installing riparian buffers, wetlands and forest restoration practices.