• 64°

SWCD seeks more permanent conservation acres by Aug. 25

By Tim Ruzek

For the Austin Daily Herald

With increased payment rates and this season’s abnormally high rainfall, Mower County landowners are encouraged to apply for turning marginal cropland into permanent prairie and wetlands.

Mower Soil and Water Conservation District is continuing to seek Mower County landowners interested in MN CREP, a state-federal program that permanently restores cropland to native prairie or wetlands, especially on flood-prone or erosive acres. MN CREP applications, which were on hold for nine months, need to be submitted by Aug. 25 through Mower SWCD.

Tim Ruzek

In two years, Mower SWCD has helped get about 125 acres of cropland – all in the Cedar River watershed – enrolled in permanent conservation through MN CREP. Contracts for another 223 acres are nearing completion for land in Mower County’s Cedar and Root River watersheds.

“Low crop prices and unusually high amounts of rain might have farmers looking at their fields differently,” said James Fett, a Mower SWCD watershed technician overseeing the local program. “MN CREP gives them an opportunity to retire problematic acres from production and turn them into excellent wildlife habitat benefiting water quality.”

MN CREP payment rates have increased to at least $7,000 to $8,000 per acre. It also is not known yet when the next MN CREP application period will open after August, making the next month an ideal time to apply for the program.

“We hope people at least look into the possibilities for their land soon because it’s a great opportunity that is not always around, and MN CREP compensates you for the value of your land,” Fett said, adding that temporary contracts also are an option through the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

MN CREP, which pays 100 percent of the costs for restoring cropland to wetlands and prairie, is a perpetual easement in which landowners retain private ownership of enrolled acres. Public hunting never will be allowed on MN CREP land unless allowed by the private landowner.

To date, Mower SWCD has four completed MN CREP contracts in Mower County totaling about 125 acres. They include:

•Garbisch Family: 75 acres along Roberts Creek in Red Rock Township, west of Brownsdale.

•Loucks Family: six  acres along Rose Creek in Austin Township.

•Brad and Wendy Hines:  20 acres along Blooming Prairie Creek in Udolpho Township

•Roger and Dawna Peterson: 24 acres along Blooming Prairie Creek in Udolpho Township.

MN CREP is a voluntary state-federal program designed to improve water quality and wildlife habitat through permanent conservation easements that keep the land under private ownership. MN CREP was created to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres of marginal cropland across 54 southern and western Minnesota counties, including Mower, by using vegetative buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead protection.

Mower County landowners interested in MN CREP should contact James Fett, Mower SWCD, at 507-434-2603, ext. 5, or by email at james.fett@mowerswcd.org.

Landowners accepted into MN CREP enroll in the federal USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for 14 to 15 years. At the same time, the land is put into a permanent conservation easement through the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM).

Under MN CREP, work typically involves restoring hydrology through tile breaks, tile blocks, scrapes, embankment construction and daylighting tiles, among other practices. The site is seeded with a highly diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habitat. It also prevents erosion and filters surface and ground water.

In designing MN CREP land-restoration projects, engineers take careful detail to ensure that landowners upstream and downstream of the site have no negative effects to their drainage, Fett said.