Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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More CREP? BWSR sees potential for entire state

Associate Editor

St. Paul Officials from Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil
Resources hope to expand on the success of the state’s Conservation
Reserve Enhancement Program by adding another 100,000 acres to the
inventory.

Kevin Lines, conservation easement section manager for BWSR,
said the agency this week would pitch a proposal to Gov. Tim
Pawlenty that would enroll portions of southeastern and
southwestern Minnesota, as well as areas of the Red River Valley in
the northwest, in CREP.

“CREP is still alive at the federal level,” Lines said, adding
that enrollment of about 100,000 acres is complete in the Minnesota
River Valley, the original CREP area. “That kind of success is what
we want to see continue.”

The CREP program combines the state’s Reinvest in Minnesota
(RIM) Reserve program with the federal Conservation Reserve Program
to convert marginal farmland to conservation easements. The
Minnesota River project’s aim is to improve water quality and
reduce pollution, as well as restore wildlife habitat, which has
spillover benefits on the state’s tourism and economic development
opportunities, according to BWSR.

CREP also gives farmers “an economically competitive option” for
taking land out of production and enrolling it into a conservation
easement. RIM provides an up-front “bonus” while CRP guarantees
annual payments for 15 years. Rates vary depending on the type of
land enrolled.

State dollars are matched by federal funding for CREP. And this
time around, money pledged by the state could bring even greater
returns. For the Minnesota River project, the return was about 2.3
dollars for each dollar contributed by the state. Under the new
Farm Bill, the match would be 4 to 1, according to Lines.

For the Minnesota River project, the state kicked in about $80
million. Lines estimates the state must come up with $40 million,
which would be matched by federal funds in the amount of $160,000
million, to enroll another 100,000 acres.

“With the Minnesota River, there was a 40 percent cost to the
state,” he said. “This would be a 50-percent reduction, and
obviously, that’s very significant.”

Most likely, state funds would come from bonding, Lines said.
The lifetime of “bondable” projects must be 20 years; most CREP
easements in the state are perpetual.

“The next big bonding cycle is the next legislative session,”
Lines said. This past session, the Legislature approved $1 million
in bonding for the RIM Reserve program, money that could be used as
“seed” for the next CREP go-around, Lines said.

BWSR Executive Director Ron Harnack said tight budgetary times
could affect how such a bonding request is received next year.

“This comes at a time when finances are tight,” he said. But
it’s also important to secure the federal funding, he adds.

The federal Farm Bill has capped the acreage allowed for
enrollment at 100,000 acres per state. Proposals are likely to come
from 29 states, and one Native American Indian band, Lines
said.

However, three proposals submitted within Minnesota to be
combined into one statewide proposal are more than double the
allowed acreage.

Lines said the proposal from southwestern Minnesota, which would
include the watersheds of the Des Moines River and Missouri River,
is about 30,000 acres. The other two proposals for the Red River
Valley in the northwest and the various watersheds in the southeast
are about 100,000 acres each.

“We believe (a statewide proposal) is a prudent way to go,” he
said. “This way, we can start working on all three watersheds.”

Depending on activity of the federal government, potentially
more funding could be available for other available acreage in the
proposals within four years. The most recent Farm Bill increased
allowable CRP acreage to 39.2 acres. Continuous sign-up is allowed
for those who participate in the CREP program, Lines said.

Enrollment of 100,000 acres in another round of CREP should it
come to pass, could be time-consuming, Lines adds.

“It’s a voluntary program, and landowners must want to
participate,” he said. “Last time (the Minnesota River project) we
had to work extremely hard to get 100,000 acres.”

For that project, there were more than 9 million eligible acres,
Lines added.

The approval of Pawlenty is important, as he’ll authorize
submitting the CREP proposal to the U.S. Department of
Agriculture.

“I think the governor is very interested in this,” Lines said,
adding that Pawlenty, as a legislator, co-authored legislation for
the Minnesota River CREP. “There’s a lot of opportunistic
anticipation. We want the governor to view what we’ve got here as
important and critical.”

Landowners who have enrolled in CREP work with their local Soil
and Water Conservation Districts, as well as local federal offices
of the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation
Service.

Top enroller in the Minnesota River CREP was Renville County
with more than 9,000 acres. Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, and Redwood
counties all have about 8,000 acres enrolled in the program. There
are 34 counties in the state with land enrolled in the program.

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