MN Buffer

Soybean Business: Better Conservation Starts with Better Funding

This story first appeared in the July-August 2015 issue of Soybean Business, the magazine of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. Click here to read more articles from Soybean Business

In a year where buffers and water quality have become the big debate in Minnesota, some farmers are feeling left out in the lurch. For operations such as Sullivan Family Farms, where buffers and other conservation practices were left on standby due to a lack of funds in needed conservation programs, the wait is frustrating.

“This project we’ve put in three times but they haven’t funded it yet,” says Joe Sullivan of a field he and his brother were working in May. The Sullivans, who farm near Franklin, Minn., have a total of 14 acres they’ve been trying to add to the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

CREP is an offshoot of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and targets high-priority conservation issues identified by government and non-government organizations. If farm land qualifies for CREP, it is removed from production in exchange for annual rental payments.

Mike Sullivan, the patriarch of Sullivan Family Farms, says they originally tried to get the field they were planting in May into the Re-invest in Minnesota (RIM) program.

“This is a perfect example of where I was going to terrace this field, but no funding was available,” he says as he points to the ditch where his sons are working to plant 50-foot buffers. A gully in the field above the ditch has contributed to some erosion concerns, he says.

Planting isn’t cheap, either. The seed costs $150 per acre, plus fuel and labor costs, which goes beyond the tilling and prepping of the field. Mike Sullivan says he and his sons figured out the data on the land they would be converting to buffers, and they found in all the areas in need of a buffer or some other conservation practice, the yield was already pretty low.

“In order for us to take on a project like this, it has to pay to do it,” Mike Sullivan says. “I think farmers know it is the right thing to do, but you can’t take a person’s land out of production without paying them.”

The Sullivans are able to convert the 14 acres this year under Continuous CRP. The plan is to have 50-foot buffers along three fields with waterways that feed into the Minnesota River. The Sullivans worked closely with their local soil and water conservation district, and after failing to qualify for RIM or CREP, were guided to Continuous CRP.

“Had these projects gotten approved, they would have been done last year,” Sullivan says. “I really would have liked to have both in CREP, but that isn’t the case.”

Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Director Brad Hovel, who is vice chair of the Environmental Stewardship team at Minnesota Soybean, says it is important for funding to be put into programs that benefit farmers and conservation efforts.

“Soil and Water Conservation Districts are local guys who know the area,” Hovel says. “They are local experts when it comes to water conservation and they are trained on sound, environmental practices.”

Joe Smentek, Director of Public Affairs at Minnesota Soybean, agrees.

“MSGA works on behalf of Minnesota soybean farmers to ensure there are programs and funding available to do conservation practices on their farms,” he says. “Those efforts don’t come cheap, either. Because of our dedicated MSGA members and the dues they pay to belong to MSGA, we are able to better take up these discussions with legislators.”

Hovel said the next step is making sure the SWCDs are better equipped to help farmers.

“SWCD is solely funded by the county,” he says. “We need to secure even better funding for SWCDs so they can do meaningful work that will have an impact on water quality.”