Native prairie and restored wetlands soon will permanently cover nearly 1 square mile of former cropland in Mower County after another successful year of enrolling acres in the MN CREP program.
Since 2017, Mower Soil & Water Conservation District now has led the enrollment of 613 acres into MN CREP, a voluntary program focused on marginal cropland that is flood-prone or erosive. MN CREP permanently takes those acres out of agricultural production and restores the land to native prairie and wetlands.
Out of those acres, about 344 acres have been finalized with completed restorations, said James Fett, Mower SWCD’s watershed technician who leads MN CREP enrollments in Mower County.
In 2021, Mower County added 191 acres of cropland into MN CREP in the Upper Cedar River watershed, north of Austin, through three enrollments submitted to and selected for funding by the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR):
Ag producers and landowners interested in potential conservation easements are strongly encouraged to connect soon with Mower SWCD and USDA staff from Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“Limited funding was put into MN CREP when it started in 2017 and that money already has been available for five years,” Fett said. “It’s a great time to learn more and submit an application before MN CREP funds run out.”
MN CREP is a state-federal program that combines the federal CRP with the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM). Landowners accepted into MN CREP enroll in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for 14 to 15 years. At the same time, the land is put into a permanent conservation easement through the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM).
Overall, MN CREP aims to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres across 54 southern and western Minnesota counties, including Mower, by using vegetative buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead protection.
MN CREP pays landowners $7,000 to $8,000 per acre and covers all costs for restoring the land, Fett said.
“It continues to be the best time in years to enroll cropland into conservation,” Fett said.
For those not interested in permanent conservation on their land, USDA offers CRP contracts of 10 to 15 years, said Michelle Janssen, an FSA program technician in Mower County. CRP payment and cost-share rates are at the highest in Mower County that they have been in recent years, she said, and it’s similar in neighboring counties.
Depending on the CRP practice type, annual payment rates range from $215 to $300 per acre per year in Mower County, Fett said. Cost-share rates cover most of the expenses for site preparation, seed, seeding and establishment.
Typically, MN CREP restorations involve restoring hydrology through tile breaks, tile blocks, scrapes, embankment construction and daylighting tiles, among other practices. The site is seeded with a highly diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habitat. That also prevents erosion and filters surface and ground water.
These enrollments will improve water quality and wildlife habitat in local watersheds, Fett said.
In 2021, work also was done on 2020 MN CREP enrollments that included seeding for native prairie and wetlands. Local contractors also restored wetlands by breaking farm-drainage tile and removing silt to increase the depth of open water in existing wetlands on the properties.
This was done on a 104-acre easement on the Christianson property along Wolf Creek in Lansing Township, just east of the Cedar River at Ramsey Mill Pond, and on the 16-acre Mrotek property east of Grand Meadow along Deer Creek, a tributary stream of the Root River.
In the past two years, Mower SWCD and USDA-FSA have added 204 acres of former cropland to MN CREP along Wolf Creek, just upstream from Austin’s Todd Park. During spring those two years, Fett has worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to stock about 1,500 rainbow trout overall in Wolf Creek at the park.
It’s part of a “catch-and-take” fishery created by DNR at Mower SWCD’s request based on Fett’s research. Wolf Creek now is Mower County’s only stream stocked by DNR for trout.
Mower County landowners interested in MN CREP should contact James Fett, Mower SWCD, at 507-434-2603, ext. 5, or by email at [email protected].