Photograph by Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. ·


Catfish to Cattails

From the Fall 2009 issue


The long-awaited CRP practice for catfish ponds finally became reality this summer as the interim rule was published in the Federal Register on June 29th. The practice was authorized through the Farmable Wetland Program (FWP) of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Now designated as CP-40 and formally named “Aquaculture Wetland Restoration,” eligible landowners may enroll at anytime since the practice is considered “continuous.”

Eligible lands include those devoted to commercial pond-raised aquaculture in any 1 year during 2002 through 2007. This includes pond levees if those levees are to be restored to an appropriate vegetative cover. Levees used as access roads are not allowed to be a part of the CRP contract. For the purpose of eligibility, the definition of commercial pond raised aquaculture is any earthen facility from which $1,000.00 or more of freshwater food fish were sold or normally would have been sold during a calendar year. Producers must verify this through the use of feed purchase records, stocker purchase records, harvest/sales records, imagery, and other approved means.

The purpose of this practice is to restore habitat or the functions and values of wetland ecosystems that have been devoted to commercial pond-raised aquaculture. The level of restoration will be determined by the producer in consultation with NRCS.

Restoration of wetland hydrology is only required to the extent specified by the producer. However, if the land is developed to provide water cover, it may only be an average of 6 – 18 inches deep and is limited to 20% of the total enrolled acreage.

Other allowable restoration options include the establishment of food plots on up to 10% of the acreage, establishment of native grasses, legumes and shrubs and the establishment of hardwood trees. Natural regeneration and the use of nurse crops like cottonwoods during the establishment of hardwoods are also allowed.

Vegetative establishment and the earthwork needed to restore hydrology and provide adequate drainage is cost-shared at a level of 90% under CP-40. Other practices approved for cost-sharing include smoothing levees, planting nurse crops to prevent erosion, seedbed preparation, seeding firebreaks, and the use of herbicides specifically necessary to establish cover. Herbicides are not cost-shared for the maintenance of cover.

Participating landowners will have 24 months from the CRP contract effective date to complete restoration activities. All practices must be maintained. If they are not maintained adequately or they are destroyed during the contract period, the cost-share will be refunded by the participant.

There are a number of incentives that make this program attractive to landowners. They include a one-time signing incentive payment (SIP) worth $100/acre, a practice incentive payment (PIP) which basically increases the cost-share of establishment costs from 50% to 90%, a rental rate incentive (RRI) that increase the standard soil rental rate by 20% and an annual $2/acre/year maintenance incentive rate (MIR). Specific annual rental rates vary by county and soil type. There is a $50,000.00 annual CRP payment limitation per individual. However, there is no limitation on the size of tract that can be enrolled.

While this new program may not fit every pond owner’s business plan, it will certainly be warmly received by many. It provides significant flexibility and incentive to landowners who wish to convert old ponds into alternative natural resource enterprises. This may include capitalizing on carbon sequestration, biomass production, siverculture
and/or the development of wildlife habitat for outdoor recreation. But regardless of the ultimate land use change that takes place on pond enrolled into this program, significant environmental and wildlife benefits will accrue.

For more information about the new CP-40 for Aquaculture, contact your local USDA Service Center.