It’s not uncommon to see cattle grazing in open pastures when driving through the Midwest. In fact, in Kansas, cows outnumber humans two to one. So, while it’s not surprising to see cattle in the Kansas City District’s area of responsibility, it might be surprising to know that some of these herds are grazing on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’-owned land. This is possible through the Kansas City District’s agricultural leasing program.
The district is responsible for managing the lands at its projects, which span four states, primarily Kansas and Missouri, but also include parts of Iowa and Nebraska. The district’s agricultural leasing program is a natural resource management tool and a component of the district’s integrated pest management program to control invasive weeds on lands at civil works projects, lake projects and military installations.
“Our [agricultural leasing program] is a great way … for us to help manage the land [at our projects],” said Meredith Harmon, real estate chief at the Kansas City District.
The agricultural leasing program is open to the public and allows individuals to lease USACE-owned land for agricultural purposes. This could include farming crops or grazing. Different lands have different land use requirements, which are outlined in the lease. These requirements ensure no harm is done to the land, but they could also include abatement, or work-in-kind requirements, which benefit both USACE and the lessee.
“Depending on the project, [there are] special land use requirements,” said Harmon. “We are able to partner with the public and have them come in and have a win-win for [USACE] and the individual.”
District owned and managed lands are leased through a public bidding process. Individuals who want to lease the land for agricultural purposes must submit a bid and the land is then awarded to the highest bidder. Agricultural land leases are typically five- or ten-years.
The benefits of the Kansas City District’s agricultural leasing program go far beyond helping reduce costs associated with land and natural resource management. The program also has environmental benefits for pollinators and the prairie ecosystems that are found at many of the leased lands.
“Grazing animals play an important role maintaining the prairie ecosystem by stimulating plant growth,” said Kyle Ruona, conservation biologist at the Kansas City District. “Large hooved animals compact the soil and open new areas for seeds to germinate and take root. This triggers biological activity and nutrient exchanges.”
According to Ruona, this exchange of nutrients stimulates plant growth, which provides a more suitable habitat for birds, pollinators and numerous other species in need of conservation. Grazing on USACE-owned lands also supports invasive species control, grassland conservation, habitat restoration and helps to provide food sources for wildlife.
“Prairie ecosystems are dependent on disturbance to sustain their native plant community and biodiversity,” said Ruona.
In addition to cutting land management costs and supporting pollinators and the environment, the Kansas City District’s agricultural leasing program provides economic benefits to the surrounding communities, the region and the nation.
“The program generates income that supports local public schools and roads,” said Ruona. “It offers local farmers and ranchers areas for agricultural and grazing production, which in turn provides food, materials and other products essential to our local and national economy.”
Lessees can make payments in two forms: cash payment and work-in-kind. Of the cash payment that is collected through the agricultural leasing program, 70 percent goes directly back to the counties in which the land is leased. The other 30 percent is sent to the U.S. Treasury. In 2022, the district collected $1,054,750.35 in cash payment and $554,830.03 worth of work-in-kind for its leased agricultural lands.
Assisting with the natural resource management of project lands, supporting local ecosystems and supporting the economy – these are just some of the many benefits the Kansas City District’s agricultural leasing program is providing for the heartland and the nation.