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Farmers Can Enroll Land Next To Water Bodies In Conservation Program

Farmers have the option of signing up their land in the new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program until at least the end of September. But they should consider the costs and benefits before deciding whether to enroll and, if they decide to enroll, for how long, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison agricultural economist.

“This program is a federal initiative to improve water quality by limiting sediment and fertilizer run-off, and restore native wildlife habitat,” said Bruce Jones, with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Jones discussed the CREP Jan. 16 at the 2002 Wisconsin Fertilizer, Aglime and Pest Management Conference. “The program exists in other states, and each state decides how to offer enhancements to get people enrolled.”

The Wisconsin program aims to enroll 100,000 acres across the state. Farmers in participating counties have two options when enrolling land, which must border a river, stream, lake or other body of water. They can enroll for 15 years, and receive one and a half times their annual rent each year. Or, they can enroll permanently, for which they are paid twelve times their annual rent.

In return, farmers agree not to use the land for grazing or farming, and in some cases must prepare the land by terracing it or seeding it with native grasses. This will create natural buffers between water bodies and farmland, and reduce the amount of sediment and run-off that enters the water. While the main goal of the program is to improve water quality, Jones says that planners also hope to devote about 15,000 acres of land to promoting native habitat and wildlife, such as the prairie chicken.

However, farmers will first need to determine whether the program is right for them. “When farmers think about this program, they have to decide two things,” said Jones. “First, whether to enroll at all, and second, if they choose to enroll, whether to enroll for 15 years or permanently.”

In order to decide whether or not to enroll, Jones says that farmers must determine if the total payments will cover the costs of terracing or seeding the land. If they elect to enroll, they must then decide whether they would be better off taking their chances with the market value of the land in 15 years, or enrolling in the permanent program and not having to worry about the future value of the land.

“It”s a cost-benefit analysis,” said Jones. “We plan to have some spreadsheets to help farmers work out the figures.”

Land in 51 counties is eligible to be enrolled in the program, although not every eligible county will participate, according to Jones. “If you draw a line from Green Bay southwest to Grant County, everything to the southeast of that line is in the watershed region and eligible for the program, as is land on the western borders of the state, in the Mississippi Valley.”

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency”s Web site .