By Janet Kubat Willette
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Want to establish a perennial conservation crop or investigate the market for a productive conservation crop?
Contact the Three Rivers RC&D. The Three Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Council is administering a $350,000 federal Conservation Innovation Grant for the state of Minnesota.
The Productive Conservation on Working Lands grant has three components:
• A crop establishment grant. About $150,000 of grant money has been allocated to this program. Producers may qualify for up to $150 or a maximum of 50 percent cost-share for establishing up to 40 acres of a perennial conservation crop. So far, 200 acres are enrolled and 800 more are sought, said Joe Domeier, productive conservation on working lands program manager. Producers receive a one-time payment and must keep the crop planted through the end of 2009. Grant applications are available on the Three Rivers Web site and applications are accepted at any time.
The Three Rivers RC&D will work with the growers to help them find markets, Domeier said, but they can’t guarantee one.
• A marketing development grant. About $80,000 has been set aside to help entrepreneurs fund market or feasibility studies involving productive conservation crops, Domeier said. He hopes to reach emerging markets with these studies. Grant applications for this program will be accepted through Jan. 6, 2008. The grant requires a 1-to-1 match.
• Field demonstrations. Two studies are in progress through this component of the grant, Domeier said. About $40,000 has been targeted to field demonstrations and a 1-to-1 funding match is required. The first demonstration is a biomass yield and energy value assessment that the University of Minnesota in Morris is conducting. The UMM will evaluate how much electricity or energy a certain type of biomass can produce per acre. Selected grassland species, including CRP 16 seed mix, CRP 32 seed mix, switchgrass, willows and hybrid poplar, will be evaluated.
The second study is Utilizing Sustainable Crop Production Principles to Establish Local Ecotypes and Native Perennial Grasses for Bioenergy Production. There will be four on-farm field days in 2008 and 2009 to view this project in process. Test markets will include Chippewa Valley Ethanol Cooperative, Fibrominn and the University of Minnesota in Morris.
All projects must be completed by Oct. 1, 2009, so that the information learned can be compiled into a handbook, Domeier said. The handbook will include such information as who is selling seeds for biomass crops and who is buying biomass. It will also contain information on how to establish certain perennial crops.
The grant fits well with the Three Rivers RC&D mission of promoting sustainable agricultural production; clean, renewable energy production and rural economic development, Domeier said. He spoke at last week’s 71st annual meeting of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. About 600 people attended the meeting.
He asked the SWCDs to help find more people interested in establishing perennial conservation crops or marketing development for those crops. Sometimes people need a little push, he said.
The RC&D wants to keep the emerging bioenergy sector local, Domeier said, so it benefits local economies. Bioenergy production may provide farmers an opportunity to make money from marginal land and make conservation profitable, he said.
"Conservation and profitability don’t have to be mutually exclusive," Domeier said.
For more information on the grant, go to the Three Rivers RC&D Web site, www.mn.nrcs.usda.gov/partnerships/threerivers/