Column: The truth about farmers and wetlands
By BILL GORDON, Worthington
WORTHINGTON — When it comes to wetland and wildlife conservation, many people assume that environmental groups and farmers are on opposite sides. The reality is that farmers have been working for decades with state and federal soil and water conservation programs to protect the state’s natural resources. As a farmer near Worthington, I am devoted to preserving productive land for growing food, while protecting fragile land that is important to our environment, like wetlands.
Farmers today enroll in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that incentivize conservation and restoration of natural habitats. Even with these incentives, many farmers voluntarily restore wetlands without program enrollment.
On my family’s farm, about 10 percent of our land is in conservation. Through conservation program incentives, we receive conservation payments for approximately one percent of our land. This means we are setting aside 9 percent of our income potential to conservation. My family and I have made this decision because we believe in the importance of protecting wetland areas that provide natural resources and habitat for wildlife.
We don’t do it for the payments or the recognition. We do it because we care about the environment and know it is the right thing to do.
The state of Minnesota has implemented a “no net loss of wetland” policy when it comes to wetland drainage, so any farmer who drains a designated wetland area is required to replace that area somewhere else, restoring additional wetland area. As of May 2013, the DNR has announced that we, as a state, are meeting this goal.
In fact, according to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), since the late 1980s, farmers and landowners have restored 500,000 acres of wetland. Thirty-five percent of that land is protected by permanent easements.
Even with these programs and policies in place, farmers continue to look for ways to improve the state of wetlands in Minnesota. We have been working with BWSR to establish wetland banks. These banks are set up so that if a farmer has a small wetland — as designated by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — in the middle of a field, he can purchase wetland credit from the Agricultural Wetland Bank. This program seeks to increase the amount and quality of wetlands by concentrating on restoration of the more significant wetland areas that can provide habitat for wildlife.
Stewards of the land
As a proud Minnesota farmer, I use the best conservation technologies available to protect wetlands. On our farm alone, we have restored 75 acres to new wetland. My fellow farmers and I pay attention to the decisions that we make and how we affect our environment. I care deeply about protecting land and natural resources. If I didn’t care about it, I wouldn’t make my living from it.
It is disappointing to see some special interest groups disregard the big picture and misrepresent an essential part of the population who cares about the land and provides food for our local communities and beyond. We all need to play our part in protecting the environment, and pointing fingers will not solve the problem. Working together will. I encourage environmental groups to reach out to farmers and have honest conversations about how we can work together to continue to protect our natural resources and environment.