With prime agricultural land commonly fetching $250 an acre to lease, federal Conservation Reserve Program payments that range from $50 to $150 an acre don't offer farmers much of an enticement to retire marginal farmland as grasslands or wetlands anymore. But last year, Minnesota retained almost 1.7 million acres of CRP and lost only 80,000. That loss of lands set aside for wildlife and soil conservation pales in comparison to the 800,000 acres of CRP lost in North and South Dakota during the same time.
DNR wetland wildlife program manager Ray Norrgard attributes Minnesota's lower attrition of set-aside lands to the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership -- an organization of the DNR, the Board of Water and Soil Conservation, and numerous wildlife conservation organizations that employs habitat specialists who consult with agricultural landowners interested in utilizing the conservation incentive programs in the federal farm bill (see "A Sales Pitch for Farm Habitat," Nov.-Dec. 2006).
"The complexity of the federal farm program can discourage landowners from fully investigating available land management options," Norrgard said. "The Farm Bill Assistance Partnership can give landowners a view of all their options."
Often partnership habitat specialists can find a way to piggyback state conservation programs with federal programs. Minnesota's new Reinvest in Minnesota Wetland Reserve Program Partnership is an example. State legislature provided $25 million to accelerate wetland restoration easements over the next 5 to 10 years.
"Even when you have landowners fully engaged in commodity crop production, there may be portions of land or buffer areas along streams where landowners are looking to take advantage of a conservation program," Norrgard said.
Michael A. Kallok, editorial assistant