The National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic is coming back to Sioux Falls in 2021.

That’s according to Pheasants Forever, which stated the event will take place Feb. 19-21 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. The event will serve as a launching point for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever to begin requesting new initiatives and changes to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to ensure South Dakota maintains a 1.5 million annual rooster harvest, according to a press release from Pheasants Forever.

A formal letter requesting the United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue grant an extension of the general CRP signup was issued by Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever on Friday.

The existing CRP sign-up is the first of its kind since 2016, which gives people an opportunity to enroll as many as 8 million acres of some of the nation’s most environmentally sensitive lands to help improve wildlife habitat.

The CRP sign-up that began Dec. 9, 2019 is slated to end by Feb. 28, which has been met with confusion and technical issues, locally, despite the high demand for farmer, ranchers and landowners to enroll, the press release states.

“Local USDA offices were handcuffed for the first six weeks of the sign-up,” explained Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s vice president of government affairs. “Local USDA folks were not given the tools to succeed with this signup until mid-January. Computer software systems weren’t ready, trainings weren’t completed involving the complexities of the many changes to the Environmental Benefits Index scoring system, there have been inconsistencies surrounding reductions to soil rental rates, there’s been a lack of direction about mid-contract management acres, and a whole host of other factors leading to USDA offices turning away landowners coming to enroll in the CRP.”

With the struggling farm economy, wildlife populations and natural resources, the issues have arisen at a critical time. According to the press release, the CRP program peaked in 2007 with 36.8 million acres of CRP enrollment. However, the program has dwindled over the years, as there are 22 million acres of CRP land enrolled as of now, which has led to the decline in pheasants, quail, pollinators, monarchs, songbirds, and other grassland-dependent wildlife.

The economic impact with the lack of CRP enrollment for South Dakota is monumental. According to the press release, pheasant hunting during peak CRP years provided in excess of $230 million in economic impact throughout the state’s rural areas annually.

The 2018 Farm Bill raised the CRP cap from 24 million to 27 million acres. Considering the current expiring acres and the addition of 3 million new acres, there is opportunity for 8 million acres during this current general CRP signup, the press release stated.

“It’s incredibly frustrating for America’s farmers, ranchers, landowners, and hunters,” added Dave Nomsen, longtime vice president of Pheasants Forever. “The Conservation Reserve Program has been the crown jewel of America’s private lands programs supported by hunters for four decades. CRP is at a tipping point right now and we recommend USDA extend the current signup and provide necessary outreach to applicants ensuring a successful signup. Landowner interest appears to be high and it’s critical for Secretary Perdue to extend the signup period to mitigate the confusion of the first six weeks.”

In addition, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever, will be visiting with landowners at the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Minneapolis. Landowners interested in CRP are invited to attend the event’s Landowner Habitat Help Desk for a one-on-one conversation with a biologist about local, state, and federal conservation options, including the current general CRP signup.