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Making money and saving soil

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ANN MARIE AMES
August 19, 2008

Rock County has 13,884 acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, according to Farm Services Agency data.


That’s up from 10,645 acres in 1998.


Rock County Conservationist Roger Allan describes the Conservation Reserve Program as a win-win for everybody. The program generally pays to turn all or part of a sensitive farm field into a conservation practice that protects it. The program also pays farmers rent as incentive to keep the land out of production, Allan said.


“If I were in a farmer’s position, it’s a business decision as much as anything,” Allan said. “Am I making any money off this trying to farm it? I think it’s a smart move.”


The rent is meant to be competitive, but not a gold mine, Allan said. So it’s normally kept at about the same level as the rates producers pay to rent farmland in the surrounding area.


For example, Rock County rents the former county farm to a grain producer. Last year the rent was $167 per acre.


Different practices can protect different kinds of sensitive areas. Here are some that Rock County landowners can sign up for any time:


-- Grass waterway. Rock County has 490 acres of grass waterways this year, according to Farm Services Agency data. A grass waterway is planted in a gully, a spot that water rushes through when it rains. The more the water rushes through, the bigger the gully gets. The grass slows the water and keeps the soil in place.


-- Filter strips, sometimes called buffer strips. Rock County has 2,006 acres of buffer strips planted around streams and waterways to slow water as it drains. As the water slows, nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen settle into the soil and get sucked up by the grass. Particles of soil settle out too.


Simply, the strips filter the water before it flows to the stream.


If you want to see what buffer strips prevent, take a look at the Traxler Park Lagoon. When the Rock River flooded, water poured straight into the lagoon without a filter. The hot sun, combined with the fresh dose of soil, phosphorous and nitrogen, are making algae grow like crazy.


Buffer strips wouldn’t have prevented flooding, but on a daily basis they clean water before it gets into streams or rivers, Allan said.


-- The quail buffer practice is unique to Rock County, and makes up 215 acres of the county’s conservation program. The buffers are planted along the edges of fields. While they’re intended to support quail, which are native to Wisconsin, they also support rabbits, deer and songbirds, Allan said.


“When you think about upland game birds, the birds people hunt, songbirds benefit tremendously from that habitat,” Allan said.


-- Other types of practices are intended to be more permanent, so farmers can only sign up for them periodically. There are no sign-ups at this time, but some practices include: Established grass cover, 3,920 acres; established native grasses, 2,700 acres; rare wildlife habitat restoration, 1,303 acres, and wetland restoration, 1,265 acres.



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