Nine months into the new Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) enrollment period, the most sign-ups throughout 54 eligible counties have been in the southern and western parts of the state.
By late January, 25 landowners had signed up through the Redwood Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). They accounted for nearly one-quarter of all sign-ups funded to date.
“We have those who are saying, ‘OK, I’m required to put this buffer in.’ So that’s some of our very first applicants. Then we have some who are saying, ‘You know what, if I can get a nice wetland out there that’s what I want to do,’” said Marilyn Bernhardson, who serves as the Redwood SWCD administrator. “With us having less than 1 percent of wetlands in our county (remaining), every wetland restoration we can do is extremely important for water quality and for putting conservation on the ground.”
Minnesota CREP can be used to buffer streams, restore wetlands or protect drinking water supplies. It puts marginal cropland into perpetual conservation easements.
“The producers are trying to make a living,” Bernhardson explained. “So if there’s something they can do with their less productive ground, this program offers them that opportunity.”
“It’s going to accomplish a lot as part of the conservation goals for Minnesota. We’ve seen successes with previous easement programs throughout the state,” said Dave Rickert, assistant easement section manager for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR). “These are areas that are playing an important part for water quality and wildlife habitat.”
The partnership program works like this:
Landowners enroll property for 15 years in the federally funded Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
That same land is enrolled in a state-funded, perpetual conservation easement through Reinvest in Minnesota, which is administered by BWSR.
Minnesota CREP is funded with $350 million from the federal government and $150 million from the state.
By mid-February, 35 soil and water conservation districts had submitted 130 applications. The 102 funded involve 3,582 acres and nearly $31.8 million.
“I would attribute the success of that to local SWCD efforts as well as wanting to leave a legacy for future generations.These may be areas that are getting drowned out every so often. It’s putting less stress on the landowner having to worry about constantly flooded areas,” Rickert said. “The biggest part of creating their legacy is looking toward protecting this area for the next generation.”
The reasons for enrollment varied among landowners.
Twin Cities elementary school principal Steven Geis raises 1,400 acres of corn and soybeans, allows hunting in exchange for help managing 500 acres enrolled in conservation easements and this winter enrolled 105 acres of marginal Redwood County cropland in CREP. Geis grew up in the city.
His parents bought a farm in 1976. Being new to farming, Geis said he was receptive to conservation practices from the start. He credits a well-informed and cooperative Redwood SWCD staff with identifying options suited to his property.
His Redwood County CREP enrollment includes 55 acres near the Cottonwood River in Lamberton Township that’s often too wet to farm, and 50 acres of less productive, lighter soils in adjoining North Hero Township.
“In looking at the maps, you can see what the yield is. When we get an adequate rain it’s good, but it’s also nestled between two pieces that are currently also enrolled (in conservation easements) so it’s going to make a larger tract,” Geis said. “It’s the best use for the land, in the sense that you’re taking a piece of ground that may be marginal and utilizing its full potential by restoring it.”
Geis fields calls year-round from people seeking permission to hunt his land enrolled in conservation easements. He used to charge $150 per gun per day. Now, he tells hunters to call back in April or May when he needs help with controlled burns, cleaning up fence lines or picking rocks.
“City folk get to come out and do sweat equity, and then they get exclusive hunting rights,” Geis said.
Both of his Redwood County CREP additions will make good pheasant habitat. Geis also expects to see wild turkeys and deer on the piece near the Cottonwood River.
“You have to look (at) what’s the best use of the land for the long-term – especially if it’s something that’s going to help with waterways, that’s going to help with water quality and wildlife management,” Geis said.
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources’ mission is to improve and protect Minnesota’s water and soil resources by working in partnership with local organizations and private landowners.
Learn more about the CREP program online at www.bwsr.state.mn.us.