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Programs available for conserving soil

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County landowners have several opportunities to help protect marginal farming ground through programs offered by the Farm Service Agency and the Soil and Water Conservation District.

Opportunities such as the Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program II allow producers to get paid to take marginal land out of production.

The FSA office is now conducting a re-enrollment and extension sign-up for producers. Eleven producers in Nobles County qualify for the re-enrollment option, while one qualifies for an extension. Combined, the two would keep approximately 250 acres out of production.

The deadline for CRP re-enrollment or extension is April 15, with the re-enrollment to start on Oct. 1, 2007.

A general sign-up for CRP will be March 27 through April 14, and is open to all landowners within the county. Eligibility for the program is based on soil erosion factors, location to water sources, land price and practices used on the land.

"This is the program people would enroll their highly erodible grounds in," SWCD district administrator Dan Livdahl said.

Ron McCarvel, executive director of the Nobles County FSA, said 16 million acres nationwide are set to expire from CRP in 2007. In Minnesota, roughly 36 million of the 39.2 million acres eligible for CRP are enrolled in the program.

CRP-eligible land is typically subject to flooding in three or four of every 10 years, or perhaps is ground that is producing low-yielding crops, said Steve Woltjer, NRCS district conservationist. Land may be taken out of production for up to 10 to 15 years

In Nobles County, producers use the continuous CRP program on areas where filter strips, waterways, riparian buffers and shelter belts are utilized. Rates for land enrolled in that program range from $120 to $150 per acre, and cost-sharing is also available.

With CREP II, which combines the benefits of CRP and Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM), producers must set aside land for a period of 45 years. While landowners receive both state and federal incentives for enrolling in the program, watershed districts also offer added incentives.

The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed, for instance, will pay landowners a one-time payment of $1,500 per acre for land enrolled in CREP II, while the Heron Lake Watershed District is paying an extra $100 per acre.

The disparity between the two watershed districts, said Livdahl, is that the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed is smaller in size.

"Worthington's water supply is also a major concern for them," he said.

CREP II sign-up is ongoing, although Livdahl said landowners should stop in at the SWCD office soon if they want land enrolled in the program by fall.

Another incentive option, not yet available to landowners in Nobles County, is the Conservation Security Program.

"We don't know when Nobles County will be (accepted) in the program," said Woltjer, adding that there is an eight-year rotation cycle. Federal budget cuts may impact when Nobles County will be accepted, and how much land will be eligible for the program.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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