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Paynesville Press - November 08, 2006

Locals honored for conservation

By Michael Jacobson

To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Stearns County Farm Service Agency recently issued commemorative awards to nearly 30 landowners who have participated in the program since its inception.

With six award winners, the Paynesville area had the most in Stearns County. Local award winners were: Keith Dombrovski, Dave Hoeft, Kocka Farms, Clifford Knebel, Carl Lieser, and Don Wartenberg.

crp They all have been involved in CRP since the first sign-ups in 1986. The Farm Service Agency offered three sign-up periods 20 years ago, according to Phyllis Framstad, executive director of the Stearns County Farm Service Agency. In the first year, over eight million acres of land were enrolled nationwide.

This field - owned by Don Wartenberg of Paynesville, one of six local landowners honored by the Stearns County Farm Service Agency for 20 years of participation in the Conservation Reserve Program - borders the North Fork of the Crow River in Paynesville Township and is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

CRP, the nation's largest and most successful conservation program on private lands, now has 35.9 million acres enrolled nationwide, added Framstad, with annual rental payments totaling $1.7 billion.

CRP is a great deal, according to Framstad, because each year soil productivity benefits amount to $162 million, hunting waterfowl is valued at $222 million, reducing runoff from fields is valued at $392, and viewing wildlife is valued at $629 million. Plus, CRP provides wetlands to improve water quality and to provide flood control, for which no dollar value is estimated. Neither are the benefits of reducing sediments or sequestering carbon from atmosphere calculated, added Framstad.

Minnesota ranks seventh in the nation with 1.8 million acres enrolled in CRP. (Texas is first with just over four million acres, followed by Montana with 3.5 million acres.) In Stearns County, there are 1,584 CRP contracts on 877 farms covering 35,369 acres, according to the Stearns County Farm Service Agency.

The local award winners listed several reasons for their participation in CRP, with the main three being environmental benefits, wildlife habitat, and stable income.

Keith Dombrovski has six or seven parcels enrolled in CRP, totaling 110 acres in Paynesville Township, mostly north and east of the Heatherwood Addition on the south side of the Canadian Pacific (former Soo Line) Railroad.

Dombrovski - who has planted several thousand trees on his land and hunts turkeys, pheasants, and deer - called CRP a good all-around program due to the stable income and wildlife habitat. "I think over the years we've seen it's good for wildlife," he said.

Dave Hoeft, who started with a 30-acre parcel, including building a slough, in CRP, now has most of his farm (250 acres) enrolled in the program, part in Stearns County and part in Kandiyohi County. For him, the stable income beat renting the land since he has "no worries about rent."

Hoeft is also an avid hunter and the wildlife habitat - especially for deer and pheasants - is a bonus.

Kocka Farms - a partnership of the Lloyd Peterson family - has 162 acres enrolled in CRP, said farm manager Dave Brinkman of Paynesville. They use CRP land as buffer strips around fields, filter strips around sloughs, and on highly-erodable steep slopes on their properties in Paynesville and Eden Lake townships and in Meeker County. Their CRP plots range in size from a 45-acre field to a two-acre buffer strip.

CRP, said Brinkman, "is the best way to protect the two main resources we have: soil and water." Brinkman has noticed how enrolling marginal land in CRP has limited soil erosion and keeping the eroded soil out of the surface water has helped keep that clean, too.

When CRP started, Brinkman and Lloyd Peterson discussed the program, with Peterson feeling it was a good program for farmers, said Brinkman, who is pleased the Peterson family continues this conservation tradition.

Cliff Knebel, who has 200 acres enrolled in CRP in Paynesville Township, near Roscoe, has planted over 10,000 trees on his land. He views caring for his CRP land as his hobby. "I don't golf. I don't fish. This is my golf course and my lake, so I plant feed plots and enjoy the wildlife," he said.

Knebel owns the farm where he was born and raised as well as the original Knebel farm, first acquired by his family in 1861. CRP also limits erosion and helps keep water pure.

Carl Lieser enrolled 35 acres along the Sauk River near St. Martin in CRP in 1986 and still has 26 acres of river bottom enrolled. He works at Cold Spring Granite and hobby farms 150 acres a half mile north of St. Martin.

The secure payments are nice, so are less erosion and the restoration of wetlands. Lieser, whose family likes to hunt, thinks the wildlife habitat is one of the best benefits. "It's great for wildlife," he said. "There's no doubt about that."

Don Wartenberg, has 55 acres enrolled in CRP, 30 acres along the Crow River in Paynesville Township as well as another 25-acre field. He used to have another 94 acres bordering Rice Lake enrolled but now rents that land.

Wartenberg, who retired from farming in 1984 and owns 312 acres, much rented for farming, finds CRP a steady income. "You have a paycheck coming and you didn't have to argue with anyone," he said of the annual CRP rental payments. Wartenberg's farm also holds Century Farm designation, dating back in his family to 1860.

Indeed protecting natural resources - soil, water, and wildlife - are three key benefits of CRP, as listed in a fact sheet by the Farm Service Agency for its employees.

The program also was meant to help farmers' bottom lines. According to the fact sheet, by the 1980s, significant public concern existed about the environmental impacts of farming from "fence row to fence row." CRP gave farmers an option besides cultivating environmentally-sensitive land.

Over 20 years, according to the fact sheet, CRP has reduced the loss of 450 million tons of soil from croplands. It can take between 200 and 1,000 years to develop an inch of topsoil, and if that 450 million tons of soil were spread an inch thick it would cover 2.8 million acres.

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