Land Management

NET

In addition to increasing stream flows, the NCORPE project is believed to be the largest conversion of irrigated cropland to native prairie on a contiguous or nearly contiguous tract of land in Nebraska’s history. Approximately 17,500 acres of cropland in the Sandhills Ecoregion of Nebraska, as defined by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, is being converted to native prairie and rangeland with help from The Nebraska Environmental Trust.

The property was purchased so that crop irrigation would cease on the property and groundwater that would otherwise be used to grow crops could be redirected to the Platte and Republican Rivers for the purpose of increasing river flows. In the Spring of 2016 the initial seeding project was completed and all formerly irrigated acres totaling 13,388 acres were drilled to the following grasses: Sand bluestem, Blue grama, Prairie sandreed, Little bluestem, Switchgrass, Sand lovegrass, Western wheatgrass, Indiangrass, and forbs: Purple prairieclover, Upright prairie coneflower, Blackeyed susan, Leadplant, and Shell-leaf penstemon. This seed mixture was drilled into a cover crop of Sorghum Sudan that was established on the property in 2013. In addition to the Sudangrass hybrid a minor amount of row crop stubble was also used as a cover crop during the seeding project.

The seed mixture was established in consultation with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices in North Platte and Imperial. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has also provided input on the establishment of native plant species.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust awarded a $700,000 grant to NCORPE in 2014 to help establish these native plants on the property. Without the grant, the diversity of species seeded on the property would not have been possible.

In 2018, four years after the initial plantings, it was determined that a minor amount of seedlings failed to establish. Seedling success is determined by an infinite number of factors including the weather which is uncontrollable. A re-seeding project was implemented in 2019 and is projected to finish in 2021. This project simply addresses the areas in need of additional seed and continued management focused on cropland conversion.

Fortunately, in 2019 The Nebraska Environmental Trust awarded a $37,746 grant to NCORPE for the costs associated with the purchasing and drilling of enough forb seed to plant 3,700 acres. This grant will potentially be funded for $159,486 in 2020 and $9,783 in 2021 contingent upon NET’s board approval. This three-year grant affords the opportunity to once again seed a diversified native mix of both grasses and forbs in formerly irrigated cropland. Plant diversity is important because ultimately it determines the overall health of a prairie.

Looking forward, the project site presents exciting opportunities to learn more about the establishment of native plant species on formerly irrigated land and the benefits of cropland conversion to both people and wildlife.

NCORPE has and will continue to have leased grazing and haying opportunities. These management tools aid in the establishment and future management of the prairie reconstruction project. All leasing opportunities will be announced publicly and details can be found on the land management portion of the NCORPE website.