Landowners in 54 southern and western Minnesota counties are again eligible to enroll in the Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
The voluntary program pays landowners to retire marginal cropland to create permanent conservation easements to protect environmentally-sensitive land.
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the USDA Farm Service Agency oversee the program. Landowners simultaneously enroll land in a 14- to 15-year federal Conservation Reserve Program contract and a permanent Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve program conservation easement. Landowners receive payments to restore native vegetation on enrolled acres, which maximizes water quality and habitat benefits.
Payment rates range from $2,000 to $9,000 per acre according to Sharon Doucette, BWSR conservation easement section manager. Rates are determined by using average annual tillable values by township as a starting point. The payment covers 90% of that rate plus an incentive payment.
“Landowners are reimbursed by the state for the cost of the restoration work itself on top of these payments,” she says.
The first enrollment for this latest period was available from May 2017 to late 2018. The state-federal program was put on hold last year until the new farm bill passed. Landowners thus far have enrolled around 12,000 acres. Overall, the program’s goal is to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres of marginal cropland in Minnesota using buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead area protection. Native plantings on those acres filter water, prevent erosion and provide critical habitat for grassland species including badgers, meadowlarks and monarch butterflies.
Doucette says that CREP enrollment will continue until funds are exhausted or a total of 60,000-acre goal is reached, whichever comes first. The state has a total of $525 million for CREP, $350 million coming from USDA and $175 million from Minnesota through the Clean Water Fund, Outdoor Heritage Fund, Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and other investments.
Learn more about Minnesota CREP at your local FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service or Soil and Water Conservation office. You can also visit bwsr.state.mn.us/crep.