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Tiling issues discussed at Big Iron farmshow

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 10/03/2012 10:11 AM

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FARGO, N.D. —Don Baloun wants farmers to get over their fear of going to their local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices.

The Minnesota NRCS state conservationist, speaking at the Big Iron farm show in Fargo last week, said he wants them to be in compliance with farm and conservation programs as they move forward on tiling projects.

Tiling has been huge in Minnesota, Baloun said. The state had 12,000 requests for the 1026 forms. In the southern Red River Valley, four to five counties were each fielding 400 to 500 requests.

Baloun was joined by North Dakota NRCS assistant state conservationist Andy Wingenbach at the Red River Farm Network's Issues and Events forum. North Dakota has also seen an increase in tiling from the east to west, Wingenbach said. The state had 3,500 requests this spring, he said.

NRCS Chief Dave White recognizes the demand for more tiling and is putting together the resources to help local offices, Baloun said. Most county offices have a two-person staff.

The added manpower will be dedicated to the questions and completion of the form 1026 needed for tiling projects.

Baloun asked farmers to be patient as the offices work through the backlog of requests. He is concerned about farmers who said they are afraid to come to the offices and those who think the offices are there to get them out of business.

"If you are out of business, we are out of business," he said. "Besides, it's the law. We are to do the best job we can."

He encouraged farmers to consider wetland banks, which is a tool in the process.

Minnesota has approved two wetland banks in Waseca and Marshall counties, Baloun said. There are five to six counties nearing approval.

Iowa has its own wetland mitigation website, and North Dakota is looking into it, Wingenbach said.

Farmers can also do self-mitigation. Some farmers are reverting land coming off the Conservation Reserve program to wetlands. Farmers making the transition need to work through the Board of Water and Soil Resources for the wetland acres. And the points gathered through the process can be sold to another farmer, he said.

It's been in the farm bill since 1996, Baloun added.

"But we need you guys to be part of the process," he said. "We have to have guys willing to take that CRP and put it into a mitigation bank ... We need farmers telling farmers about this."

There's some concern that, with the need for wetland banks, farmers who establish them may charge more than a one-to-one basis for mitigation services.

"If the farmer's land is worth $7,000 an acre then the mitigation should cost $7,000 an acre as well," Baloun added.

Farmers shouldn't use Farm Service Agency maps with dots noting wetland areas, Baloun said. Farmers should bring all recorded information, tiling records and ditch records about the land they plan to tile. Maps that have polygons more accurately show wetland sites.

"With the information, we can look at it and be more informed as we discuss the land," Baloun said.

Farmers' first stop in the process is the FSA where producers can update the AD-1026 form. A referral is then sent to the NRCS office where they develop a certified wetland determination.

The USDA requires that farmers self-certify their compliance with the wetland conservation provisions, which includes disclosing all new drainage plans that have not been evaluated by NRCS.

Producers who choose to install drainage improvements without a certified wetland determination need to be aware that any drainage activities done in an area without previous cropping history or in acres that are consistently wet, pose a high risk of resulting in converting a protected area. Converting protected wetland areas could result in the loss of USDA program benefits on all land the producer operates.

There was some question on the consistency of rules from one state to the next. Wingenbach said consistency is needed. There had, at one point, been differences on doing off site determinations but he expects it will all be standardized by Oct. 1.