Adding a CAP to Your Farming Plan
Low-cost resources are available to help you get more out of your grazing management plans
By Heather Smith Thomas, Idaho
Most people who raise cattle cannot increase their land base, so in order to increase production, they need to use the land more effectively and improve their efficiency. Often, it can be hard to know where to start.
There are some people who are out there to help, for free or very little cost. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides a service to help farmers create grazing management plans, and sends out people like Ken Johnson to help.
Johnson’s title is a technical service provider, but his job is to help farmers plan and apply conservation practices on their land.
“In most regions, land is becoming less available for grazing,” Johnson said. “I’ve lived in Monroe County, Kentucky, for nearly 40 years and have always leased 300 to 400 acres of pasture.”
With the farmer and producer, the service providers develop a specialized conservation plan known as Conservation Activity Plan, or CAP. This can identify resource concerns on the farm or ranch and develop a plan to address those concerns.
Johnson worked for Natural Resources Conservation Service for 33 years in south central Kentucky, and retired there—and then became a Technical Service Provider. He says the primary benefit of having a guy like him help you develop a CAP is to have someone else’s opinion as to how you can utilize your farm in better ways.
“Another set of eyes can be helpful, especially someone who has seen a number of other farms, and has seen things that work and things that haven’t. Most of the time this service is either free or at a low cost,” Johnson said. “I don’t understand why more people don’t take advantage, and gain something from the process.”
Johnson has always been interested in helping farmers and ranchers become more efficient. In the early 1980s, he and Steve Osborne, a state extension agent, began to organize grazing trials involving fairly intensive rotations.
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This was well before anyone else was doing this on a regular basis.
“It just astonished me how much more grass you can utilize, and eventually grow more grass, when you get the right kind of animal impact on pastures,” Johnson said. “We have been doing this to some degree ever since. We moved to very small paddocks and quicker moves.”
In many areas of the country, this is still a service that has been largely overlooked.
“We need to get the word out that this is available, at low cost or no cost to producers and that they can benefit from experience that other people have,” Johnson said. “It can always help to have someone with a different level of expertise who might be able to help you change your layout entirely or tweak it a little, to increase production.”
Contact the National Resources Conservation Service
Headquartered in Washington D.C., the Service has volunteers and employees around the country and in every state. They also provide a number of free brochures, books and posters to help anyone who grows food on their land or in their backyard.