Farmer Mike Peterson gives credit to the Conservation Stewardship Program for helping making the transition to a more conservative planting system. This program rewards farmers for producing environmental benefits on working lands. Peterson said the program encourages innovation.
“It helps fund different means of tillage practices that are a little bit off the bubble or out of the norm. It takes away the experimental phase of it and you bring it to reality,” he said
Peterson also said, “The program is wonderful. You can’t have too much leniency but you need some real-world flexibility.”
The Conservation Stewardship Program is a voluntary program, under the federal Farm Bill, that provides farmers with financial and technical help to protect and improve water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat on cropland. The program describes itself this way: “The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) presents a significant shift in how NRCS provides conservation program payments. CSP participants will receive an annual land use payment for operation-level environmental benefits they produce. Under CSP, participants are paid for conservation performance: the higher the operational performance, the higher their payment.”
The program pays farmers for conservation performance, with annual payments for installing and maintaining conservation practices, with a supplemental payment for adopting a crop rotation that conserves resources.
“It rewards some of the stewardship that we’ve been doing with our tillage practices, and some of our theories and conceptions on saving soil erosion and not moving nutrients off the fields I farm,” Peterson said.
County and regional Natural Resources Conservation Resources offices are now taking applications for the program with enough funding expected to enroll 12 million acres nationwide this year. Minnesota already leads the nation in the program with 3,232 contracts and more than $260 million obligated for conservation practices, according to the Land Stewardship Project.
“It seems to be a real valuable program, I feel, to water and soil health … it’s a program I’d like to continue,” Peterson said.
This program and Peterson’s operation are examples of farm practices that foster production while protecting waters downstream. In this case, those waters include Byllesby Reservoir, the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin. The MPCA is working with local partners to restore these waters for the benefit of aquatic life and recreation.