Since she was a teenager some 60 years ago, Gail Dunlap has played an active role in her family's seventh generation Ohio farming operation by focusing on ways to continually improve conservation practices and establish a natural and sustainable way of life.
'Back then, we were not that many years past the Dust Bowl times and farmers in the area were doing a wonderful job of resting the soil with long rotations,' said Dunlap. 'I remember even the weeds seemed to be as beautiful as wildflowers.'
However, as the years passed, Dunlap quickly became more concerned about soil erosion issues in the area. Each time she returned home from college she noticed that more land was being tilled and islands of oak trees within the fields were disappearing.
In 1985, Dunlap learned about a new Farm Bill program called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and was excited about how the program could benefit their farms. Her parents agreed. After talking with their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff, they discovered that an entire farm could be eligible for the program.
CRP is one of the largest private lands programs for conservation used extensively throughout the country to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality and provide wildlife habitat.
Today, the original Dunlap farm fosters multiple CRP practices, including wetland restoration, timber, prairies, buffer strips, riparian buffers, grass waterways, shallow water areas, tall grass prairies and various wildlife habitat and food plots. Dunlap has dedicated more than 220 acres of her land in Pickaway and Ross counties to conservation.
CRP 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.
'CRP is a blessing and it has helped me save our family farm by preserving the land and establishing wildlife habitat,' said Dunlap. 'This program gave me hope that I would be able to restore my land through conservation practices so I could bring back diverse wildlife and have the opportunity to plant trees again.'
Over the years, Dunlap's CRP practices did indeed expand. Besides improving the soil health, Dunlap noticed an increase in wildlife numbers. It restored diversity to the farm.
'The program provided me income and the opportunity to apply restorative methods to save my land and allow wildlife species to return, reproduce and thrive,' said Dunlap. 'It has brought back beauty to the landscape, improved soil fertility and created new ecosystems that will continue to improve over the years. The impact of CRP will benefit many future generations.'
Since 1985, CRP has helped prevent more than 9 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.