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UPDATED: Nobles SWCD still seeks landowner info on buffer compliance plans

WORTHINGTON -- Nine months after landowners first received notice from the Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District regarding compliance in Minnesota's buffer law, less than 10 percent of landowners have yet to contact the office.

WORTHINGTON - Nine months after landowners first received notice from the Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District regarding compliance in Minnesota’s buffer law, less than 10 percent of landowners have yet to contact the office.

Local farm bill technician Austin DeWitte said Wednesday approximately 160 landowners have yet to contact the SWCD regarding buffer implementation plans or compliance. Those who do not notify the agency must meet the Nov. 1 deadline to have buffers in place along public water courses, or Nov. 1, 2018 for public ditches.

Meanwhile, those who have a plan in place with the SWCD - or are on the waiting list to enroll acres in the federal Conservation Reserve Program - have a grace period. An amendment to the buffer law passed during the last legislative session gives landowners or producers working with their local SWCD until July 1, 2018 to be compliant, while those on the waiting list for CRP or in need of technical assistance have until Nov. 1, 2018.

Numerous changes have been made since the original buffer map was released by the state, with about 25 parcels in Nobles County removed and requirements on other parcels altered, DeWitte noted.

SWCD District Manager John Shea said it’s possible some of the landowners that haven’t contacted the office could be enrolled in a program already, but they will still need to report that information to the SWCD.

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There is some new funding available through the state’s Clean Water Fund to assist landowners in establishing the required buffers. Nobles County has received $60,000, which Shea said will be used to provide either 75 percent cost-share or a flat rate not to exceed $300 per acre. The funds come with a 10-year contract, which allows the landowner to do both haying and grazing outside of the May 15 to Aug. 1 nesting season.

While Shea said there can be no other federal or state dollars tied to this program, producers would be eligible to access local funding if it’s offered through their watershed district or county.

The funds are available in part to pay for seeding the land. SWCD has a variety of seed mixes available, ranging from $60 to $300 per acre. Shea said the standard mix recommended is $120 per acre.

For landowners who plan to hay or graze their buffers, Shea said the goal is to pick the best, most productive vegetative mix for the livestock.

In addition to seeding buffers, Shea said the state funding is available for alternative practices. An example would be installing a shorter buffer, but combining it with cover crops and/or a no-till practice.

“The producer has to provide the information that proves the alternative practice is sufficient in comparison to a 50-foot buffer,” Shea said, adding that landowners are encouraged to hire a consultant to come up with the numbers.

The SWCD also has technical and financial assistance available to landowners to re-establish grassed waterways, while the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are also viable options for funding assistance.

CREP is a permanent easement program, with a one-time state payment and 15-year CRP payment paid to the landowner. It does require an 8-acre minimum for enrollment, and landowners must be registered with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. CREP sign-up is ongoing, while the deadline for the next round of EQIP funding is Aug. 18.

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DeWitte, who has met with more than 500 landowners in Nobles County about the buffer law, said a lot of landowners were willing to do something - and some said the buffers needed to be done.

“Our goal here has always been to improve the water quality and this is one tool that can help that goal,” added Shea. “There’s a lot of producers who have been doing the right thing for many years that this law hasn’t affected.”

Anyone with questions about the buffer requirements is encouraged to call or stop by the SWCD office to meet with staff.

“Don’t be afraid to come in and ask questions,” Shea said. “We won’t be afraid to tell you we don’t know.”

Shea said he thinks the buffer law is set now and doesn’t anticipate more changes before the requirements take effect.

“I believe the legislators and the people representing the farmers are fairly happy with the compromises on both sides,” he said. “There’s always going to be people wishing the buffer law was more strict, and there will be people wishing it would go away.

“My biggest thing is being a good steward of the land and protecting the water that leaves your land. It is the best way to help our goal of clean water within the state and the county.”

 

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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