Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

CSP accepting applications; deadline extended to Feb. 7

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 01/27/2014 10:09 AM

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Mike Rupprecht seeks to imitate the bison herds of the past with his cattle herd.

The cattle graze paddocks, moving frequently to new grass, Rupprecht said. As the grass is grazed, the roots die and regrow again with the grass, building the soil. It's amazing what the dirt in the pasture looks like when dug up, he said.

The goal is to have no soil erosion on his farm.

"We have to protect our topsoil, that's what makes everything grow," Rupprecht said.

In 2009, he signed up for the Conservation Stewardship Project. The federal farm bill program rewards farmers who practice good conservation and encourages them to add more practices designed to increase stewardship.

"I felt it might be a good program promoting good stewardship (and) good farming practices," Rupprecht said.

He pays close attention to preventing soil erosion and having a good crop rotation that includes soil-building crops. He wants to improve the soil for future generations. His farming operation includes a 100 percent grass-fed beef herd, certified organic chickens and organic corn, soybeans, barley, hay and pasture.

His focus on pasture management has created wildlife habitat, and he has seen an increase in grassland birds, including bobolinks, dickthistle, Eastern kingbirds and meadowlarks.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting new enrollments in the CSP through Jan. 17 for federal fiscal year 2014. CSP enrollments are accepted year-round, but applications are evaluated during ranking periods. To be eligible for this enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by Jan. 17. The deadline has been extended to Feb. 7.

CSP is in its fifth year, and 59 million acres across the nation have been enrolled. In Minnesota, 3,752 contracts have been issued from 2009 to 2013, and $300 million is obligated to fund them, said Adam Warthesen of the Land Stewardship Project.

Land enrolled in the CSP isn't taken out of production. Instead, farmers are asked to install practices, called enhancements, to improve soil quality, water quality, air quality and plant resources.

Popular enhancements used by Minnesota farmers include:

• Using new nozzles that reduce the drift of pesticides.

• Modifying water tanks to prevent bats and bird species from being trapped.

• Establishing pollinator and beneficial insect habitat.

• High level integrated pest management.

• Rotating feeding areas and monitoring key grazing areas to improve grazing management.

Rupprecht used two of the most popular enhancements on his southeastern Minnesota property. He installed wildlife escapes on his water tanks and monitors grazing areas.

Installing the wildlife escapes on the water tanks was simple and it's amazing how it works, he said. No birds have drowned in the tank since he installed the escapes. Before, birds would occasionally drown in the 50 gallon water tanks he has in each paddock.

The ongoing pasture monitoring takes more time and skill, Rupprecht said. He has a couple sites within the paddocks that he checks at least once during the grazing season. While at the site, he takes pictures and goes through a 10-item checklist that includes items such as what kind of soil compaction exists, is bare ground showing and percent and type of plant cover. It's interesting to have pictures to look at year-to-year to see the changes, he said. The biggest variation is dependent on the amount of precipitation received.

Another enhancement is recycling used oil and keeping an inventory of farm lubricants. Every fall, he goes to the county NRCS office to review his records. He has also had one on-farm inspection.

Rupprecht said the CSP has tremendous benefits for all society: It promotes clean water, clean air and keeping soil in its place while building organic matter.

Darwyn Bach, who raises corn and soybeans in Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota, has two CSP contracts. One began in 2010, the other in 2012. Different practices are used in both contracts; the second one came after he rented a new farm.

Bach said he always looks for programs to put poorer land into and the CSP worked, providing both environmental and economic benefit. It allows him to pick the practices he wants to add.

The tool used to evaluate acres has improved since his first contract and is more transparent, he said. The payment received relates to the score given when signing up. His payments range from about $30 to about $50 per acre.

Enhancements include no fall-applied nitrogen and no more than 50 percent applied at planting. He also has to sidedress nitrogen. Bach installed drift-reduction nozzles and does a stalk nitrate analysis, either in or after season. He also installed a solar-powered fencer on his pasture fence.

On his second contract, he applies phosphorus using variable rate technology. He also added smart-spray technology and drift-reduction nozzles.

Bach also has buffers, creeks, drainage ditches and waterways.

He said he's very happy with the program and has encouraged others to apply.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program fits their operations. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

View the checklist at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/csp or visit your county NRCS office.