NICOLLET COUNTY MINN. July 30, 2019 — Most of the 61 Nicollet and Sibley county farmers who applied for assistance to plant cover crops on fallow fields affected by this spring’s flooding asked the same thing: What’s the catch?
“In the end there really isn’t one,” said April Sullivan, the Gaylord-based Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist for both counties. That’s especially true for farmers who already planned to plant cover crops to control erosion, suppress weeds and improve soil health.
A special NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) sign-up will pay farmers whose applications are accepted a base rate of $34.02 an acre with a higher rate of $51.03 for historically underserved producers. The maximum payment per application is $20,000. Field offices expect to know by Aug. 2 which applications were approved. Approvals are decided by ranking environmental benefits.
Minnesota NRCS offices received more than 1,800 applications by the July 12 deadline. If Minnesota receives more of the additional funding that has been requested, more contracts will awarded. Many farmers requested and received waivers allowing them to plant before their EQIP applications are approved.
“We want to keep the soil covered — that’s the big thing — and then suppress weeds, but also improve soil quality,” said Nicollet County farmer Nick Peters, 38, who applied for a waiver through the NRCS office in Gaylord.
Peters runs a 900-hog farrow-to-finish operation west of St. Peter and raises about 3,100 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and oats with his father, Chuck Peters, and father-in-law, Jim Flantz. He sought a waiver for the 105 acres for which he’d filed prevented planting claims with the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.
“Fortunately we have a fair amount of tile. Most of our acreage went in pretty well. In this area, if you didn’t have good drainage it was really rough,” Peters said.
On an average year, he’s done planting by May 25. This year, he finished planting corn on June 8 and soybeans on June 9.
Sullivan said fields near Gibbon and Lafayette were among the hardest hit in Nicollet and Sibley counties. She heard from producers with fallow fields ranging from 3,000 acres to 15 acres. The $34.02 rate and $20,000 maximum payment makes it possible to request a waiver for up to 587 acres.
“It all helps, I guess,” Peters said, adding that receiving EQIP assistance would offset the cost of the more expensive registered seed that NRCS requires.
Peters, who first incorporated cover crops in his operation five years ago, was considering an annual rye and radish mix on the two flooded fields totaling 105 acres. He said planting radishes on land typically in a corn-soybean rotation would be a rare opportunity to get deep roots in the ground.
While Peters heard about the special EQIP sign-up from several sources, Sullivan said some farmers learned about it from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency or Farm Service Agency staff.
“It’s definitely been a collaborative effort,” Sullivan said. “FSA has been a great help in telling these (producers) about this program that NRCS has got, because they’re already sitting at their desk. As far as the RMA goes, I’ve had several crop insurance guys call me just so that we’re all on the same page.” Sullivan said.
NRCS has enough funding to approve less than half of the applications. Most farmers Sullivan dealt with took the news about limited funding in stride.
“They realize that there’s only so many dollars,” Sullivan said. “Typically they’re going to do it anyway, but it would be nice if they get funded to help them reimburse some of the costs.”
The special sign-up put Sullivan in contact with producers she had not worked with before. That could spark interest in other NRCS programs.
“It definitely is going to open the possibility, because the ones that have been in the door for this particular sign-up are not the ones that we have typically have done business with,” Sullivan said. “Hopefully they have had a positive experience out of this so they will be more willing to (come back).”