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Ditch protection is a milestone

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Kristy Zajac, Redwood Soil & Water Conservation District conservation specialist, talks about the mix of grasses and forbs in the pollinator seeding at the site of Minnesota’s first MN CREP easement during a June 18 event in Redwood County.
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REDWOOD FALLS , Minn. — Seeded with a pollinator-friendly mix and signed with white placards, the first Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (MN CREP) easement borders a public ditch that runs through Robert and Cathy VanderLinden’s Redwood County corn field.

It’s a conservation milestone for Minnesota, marked on June 18 with a short ceremony hosted by the Redwood Soil & Water Conservation District and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. The 8.85-acre filter strip will improve water quality and provide habitat on the VanderLindens’ farm.

With the state’s second recorded MN CREP easement — another filter strip on adjoining property owned by Robert’s sisters, Janet and Judy, and Judy’s husband, Warren Liepitz — the VanderLindens together protected both sides of a mile-long stretch of Judicial Ditch 32.

The ditch flows into Ramsey Creek and eventually, the Minnesota River.

A voluntary, $500 million program, MN CREP aims to protect 60,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land within 54 southern and west-central Minnesota counties. Landowners enroll land in the federally funded Conservation Reserve Program, administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency, for 14 or 15 years. The land is simultaneously enrolled in a perpetual Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) conservation easement administered by BWSR.

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Available MN CREP funds include $350 million from the USDA and $150 million from BWSR."I think targeting these resources in the most critical and most sensitive lands in our state is what we should always keep foremost in our minds because that’s our best investment of conservation dollars," said Rep. Paul Torkelson.Since enrollment opened in May 2017, about 200 Minnesota landowners have applied for MN CREP, totaling $49.2 million and affecting about 7,100 acres , including filter strips, wetland restorations and wellhead protection.

Landowners work directly with their local Soil and Water Conservation District, Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

Robert and Cathy VanderLinden, who farm the land owned by all three siblings, worked with Redwood SWCD staff. They were required only to buffer the ditch with a 16.5-foot-wide strip, but opted for 60- to 90-foot filter strips. The field slope determined the width.

"That wider buffer is able to do a couple of things. The first thing it’s able to do is deal with both sediment and soluble potential pollutants," said Tim Koehler, BWSR’s senior programs advisor. With the wider buffers, they also incorporated pollinator plants within the seed mixes. So in addition to helping water quality, it’s helping habitat.

"Beyond the filter strips is still corn and soybeans. It shows how we can use CREP on a working-farm situation to deal with (landowner) concerns," Koehler said.

The VanderLindens are among 27 Redwood County landowners who have enrolled 662 total acres in MN CREP. Since its first RIM enrollment in 1986, Redwood SWCD staff has completed 515 conservation easements affecting 16,550 acres.

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