Help arrives for flooded farmland

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 17, 2000

The Natural Resources Conservation Service can help farmers who own cropland that’s been flooded.

Monday, July 17, 2000

The Natural Resources Conservation Service can help farmers who own cropland that’s been flooded.

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NRCS will hold a signup through July 28 to accept applications for its Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) floodplain easement program.

More than $60,000 in claims have been submitted by Mower County landowners who suffered damages to their conservation systems.

The flooding caused damages to 35 different systems – mostly waterways located throughout the county.

The Upper Iowa River, Root River, Cedar River and every creek everywhere flooded into cropland.

According to State Conservationist William Hunt, the time and conditions are right for the program.

"This easement program offers landowners an opportunity to retire cropland in floodplain areas rather than trying to restore it," he said. "NRCS can purchase floodplain easements as an emergency recovery measure to help prevent future losses from natural disasters, such as flooding."

"Producers in southeastern Minnesota who were affected by flooding may find this easement program cost-effective when you compare it to trying to restore and farm wet, flood-prone lands," Hunt said. "Landowners can save the expense of restoring cropland in floodplains."

To be eligible for the program, the land must meet the following basic criteria:

– It must lie in the floodplain and have a history of flooding.

– It must be owned for at least one year unless it was inherited.

– Entering it into the easement program must be socially, economically, environmentally and technically defensible

NRCS will accept applications from eligible landowners in the southeast Minnesota counties of Mower, Freeborn, Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona. Landowners are strongly encouraged to make an appointment to visit the Austin NRCS field office during the signup period to fill out the necessary paperwork.

The new plan is being heavily promoted by the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Jon Voz, resource specialist, explained how it can work for Mower County growers.

"Under the floodplain easement program, a landowner voluntarily offers to sell NRCS a permanent conservation easement that provides NRCS with the full authority to restore and enhance the floodplain’s functions and values," he said.

"NRCS will pay applicable acquisition, easement and restoration costs. The easement value paid will be based on the agricultural value of the land. The land entered into the easement program no longer will be eligible for future disaster payment," Voz said.

According to the Mower County SWCD resource specialist, the landowner retains title to the land, the right to control access, as well as hunting and fishing rights.

A landowner may obtain authorization from NRCS to engage in other activities at any time as long as those activities protect or enhance the easement’s floodplain functions and values.

During the initial signup, landowners must identify the land they want to enter into the program and prove ownership of that land. When a landowner visits the field office, he or should bring a copy of the document in which they took title to the land – such as a warranty deed or a quit-claim deed – and past records of disaster payments and cleanup costs.

NRCS technical staff then will determine whether the land is eligible for EWP, and complete the evaluation process.

Once the land acquisition is completed, NRCS will apply floodplain restoration measures such as grass seedings, tree plantings or wetland restoration practices on the land.

"Farmers with cropland damaged by floodwaters should visit with the Austin NRCS office for more detailed information about how they can qualify to receive payment for a permanent easement on flood-prone land," Voz said.

How important is the new EWP being offered?

According to Voz, it’s very important.

"Many farmers haven’t been able to access fields to assess the damages," he said. "They could be even larger than we fear."

Thus, faced with low commodity prices and an uncertain harvest ahead, farmers must consider other ways to make to protect their cropland.

The new NRCS program may do that and more.

Voz believes the new EWP program offers more flexibility for landowners; even more than RIM. "The value of wetlands to these farmers and all of us, including people living in cities, is obvious."

"Their absence can be blamed, in part, on the flood damages," he said. "Therefore, having wetlands in place to be a part of a storm water management program, increases their value when they are in place both as a wetland, providing wildlife habitat and cover, but also serving as a flood control measure."

For more information about NRCS’ EWP Floodplain easement program, call the local NRCS field office at 434-2603.