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Nobles County buffer compliance inching up

WORTHINGTON -- When Gov. Mark Dayton conducted a press conference late last week announcing the progress Minnesota landowners had made to implement water quality buffers, Nobles County came in at the bottom of the list, with a reported 37 percent...

WORTHINGTON - When Gov. Mark Dayton conducted a press conference late last week announcing the progress Minnesota landowners had made to implement water quality buffers, Nobles County came in at the bottom of the list, with a reported 37 percent compliance.

That number was a bit low, according to Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District Farm Bill Technician Austin DeWitte, who has been meeting with landowners for months to discuss what they will need to do to be compliant with the law starting Nov. 1. Nobles County is one of the highest affected counties by the buffer law in Minnesota, DeWitte said.

“Nobles County is just under 50 percent clearly compliant, and another 323 (landowners) - roughly 19 percent - have had office visits and either have a plan in place or are waiting on acceptable alternative practices,” DeWitte said Monday.

DeWitte said the Nobles SWCD has sent letters to landowners regarding 1,684 parcels affected by the buffer law. His office has yet to hear from about 30 percent of those landowners before the buffer law takes effect Nov. 1.

At that time, landowners will be required to have established 50-foot average width buffers along public waters, with a 30-foot minimum buffer. People who own land adjacent to public ditches have until Nov. 1, 2018, to establish 16.5-foot buffers along the ditches to be compliant.

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“That still leaves a lot of workload,” DeWitte said of those who haven’t visited the SWCD office.

Most of the landowners he has met with thus far plan to enroll the acres for the required buffer in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. While a continuous CRP sign-up is ongoing, the federal government has allotted only so many acres for enrollment. Once the cap is reached, landowners will have to find another option if they hope to secure any funding for the land they convert to buffers.

“We’re trying to get through CRP as best we can in the office,” DeWitte said. “We can’t guarantee everything is going to get through, but the earlier people come in the better.”

All of the technical work relating to the CRP sign-up has to be completed by early September, he added.

Landowners who have had land in CRP in the past and have acres due for re-enrollment will get preference over landowners putting new acres into the conservation program.

Other options Landowners who either choose not to enroll the land required to become an established buffer in CRP - or don’t get their land into the program before the cap is reached - have other options.

They may establish grass hay or alfalfa for buffers, which can be grazed or mowed and baled. Other options, said DeWitte, include enrolling the land converted to buffers in a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) easement or another alternative practice allowed by the state.

“BWSR (the Board of Water and Soil Resources) is working on alternative practices right now,” DeWitte said. “After we have final guidance on that, that will help get numerous properties in compliance.”

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Already, some landowners whose property abuts a public ditch are getting their 16.5-foot buffers established so they can get the land into the CRP program while it’s offered.

“Most of the crop ground is eligible for CRP,” DeWitte noted. “Usually we can find a way to get a whole field in if the landowner is willing to do another program like the pollinator (program) or Back Forty (for pheasant habitat).”

Thus far, there haven’t been any issues in getting seed for establishing the buffers. There are a variety of mixes available through the SWCD office, and there are also drills available for rent to farmers to seed grass or pollinator mixes.

 

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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