The Agriculture Department is pooling $13 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding toward Northern Bobwhite habitat projects under a new program.

Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie unveiled the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Project, aimed at bolstering habitat for the quail species, at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever's joint annual convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Saturday. Populations of the bird, which reside in grasslands across the lower Midwest, southern Great Plains, and Southeast regions of the United States, have declined by over 80% in the last 30 years, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service fact sheet.

"It's an iconic species," Bonnie told Agri-Pulse at the conference. "The bird itself is incredibly valuable from a hunting standpoint and a heritage standpoint."

The program would prioritize EQIP projects centered around practices that ensure the Northern Bobwhite has access to early successional habitats, like field borders, brush management, tillage management, prescribed burning, prescribed grazing, forest stand improvement and herbaceous weed treatment, according to a press release.

The program would be available to producers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

"Our hope is this is a kickoff to a longer-range effort here," Bonnie said. "The opportunity here is to balance production and conservation and do it in a way that works for producers and works for a pretty cool little bird, too."

                 It’s easy to be “in the know” about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! Simply click here.

Bonnie's announcement was accompanied by another from from Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux laying out March 4 as the opening date for the Conservation Reserve Program's general signup. Through General CRP, the Agriculture Department pays producers to convert working fields to grasslands under 10- to 15-year contracts. 

Ducheneaux told Agri-Pulse the goal is to enroll enough acres through the three CRP signups — General, Continuous and Grasslands — to reach the program's 27-million-acre cap. The agency had just over 24 million acres enrolled in December of 2023, which provides space for over 2 million additional acres to be enrolled this year.

"We've seen the 27 million acres as a target, not so much as a cap," Ducheneaux said. "We want to get there."

General CRP signups will run through March 29, he said. The agency began signups for Continuous CRP, which targets smaller land parcels through practices like buffer strips, in January and will open Grasslands CRP signups later this year.

For more news, go to