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Downsville farmers Kathy Ruggles and John Thomas received a plaque Tuesday at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for conservation of natural resources and their participation in the Conservation Stewardship Program. Presenting the award were DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel (right) and James Bramblett, the NRCS State Conservationist.

Downsville farmers Kathy Ruggles and John Thomas received a plaque Tuesday at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for conservation of natural resources and their participation in the Conservation Stewardship Program. Presenting the award were DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel (right) and James Bramblett, the NRCS State Conservationist. Photo By Jan Shepel

Farmers honored for conservation efforts

Feb. 21, 2013 | 0 comments

 

 

 

MADISON

At a ceremony Tuesday (Feb. 19) during a meeting of the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Secretary Ben Brancel and the new State Conservationist for NRCS James Bramblett recognized several state farmers for exemplary soil and water conservation efforts.

The farmers are all enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program, a voluntary program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that rewards farmers for the good stewardship they already practice on crop, grazing and forest lands. The program also offers them incentives to make further improvements.

The award winners had the highest-scoring applications in the last ranking period.

The honorees included David Meyer, River Falls, who was not able to attend the ceremony; Heather Flashinski and her family from Cadott; and Kathy Ruggles and John Thomas, Downsville.

Brancel presented them with plaques citing them "for practicing exemplary conservation on Wisconsin’s working lands and for preserving our agricultural heritage for generations to come."

He said it was a pleasure to take a break from talking about rules and regulations on nutrient management to have an opportunity to recognize some "unique individuals in our state."

"It’s a privilege and an honor to celebrate our successes in a program that is designated to recognize farmers who are doing the good things and stepping up to the plate," Bramblett added.

Meyer custom raises dairy heifers in Pierce County, along with raising cattle, grain and hay. He uses conservation practices to control erosion next to a high-value trout stream, and fencing to keep livestock out of the stream while allowing wildlife to pass through.

Flashinski is a beginning farmer in Chippewa County who grazes cattle and chickens. In addition to these and other conservation practices already in place, she and her husband planted 500 trees last year and 1,000 trees a year earlier and improved her pastures by inter-seeding legumes on their 80-acre farm.

Kathy Ruggles and John Thomas farm in a high-risk area of Dunn County between two ox bow lakes. They have restored 20 acres to prairie, manage their forest land, and are targeting five acres for invasive species removal.

"Any day over 30 degrees is a good day for pulling honeysuckle. We have job security," she said. Getting rid of invasive species on their farm is a high priority, adds Thomas.

Bramblett said it was a privilege to recognize these farmers for their good stewardship and congratulated them for the sound management of their farms and their resources.

He said there are more than 2,000 Wisconsin farmers who have successfully enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program.

"They prove every day that taking care of the land brings long-term productivity for our farmland, pastures and forests."

Brancel said it’s important to preserve farmland, but it’s just as important to preserve the quality of that land, so it keeps on producing for the future. "These producers are leading the way, showing that you can protect our land and waters and still have a profitable enterprise.

 

PROGRAM IN JEOPARDY

According to NRCS last year nearly 500 Wisconsin farmers and forest landowners enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program, collecting an average payment of more than $6,400 for a total of $3 million.

Now in its third year in Wisconsin, the program has enrolled over 760,000 acres. Nationwide, more than 50 million acres are in the program.

"A comprehensive and innovative program, CSP has supported some of the best conservation efforts Wisconsin farms have ever seen," said Margaret Krome, policy director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, who is also a member of the DATCP board.

But for farmers who want to enroll this year, she adds, the future of the program is in jeopardy.

In the last-minute fiscal cliff deal, that extended the 2008 farm bill, many provisions of the old farm bill were extended but Congress did not include funding for a new round of signups for the CSP program, she said.

"Farmers already in the program will have their contracts honored, but without a change from Congress, no farmers will be allowed to enter the program this year."

Krome said there is still hope that CSP could get funding through Congress for a signup round this year. "As Congress makes budget decisions and writes the farm bill this year, they need to know how important this program is to Wisconsin farmers."

The farmers honored by DATCP exemplify the diversity of Wisconsin farmers who are committed to good stewardship, she said. "They are diverse in their types of operations, include beginning farmers and those who have been farming for decades and they are all farmers who care about their land, wildlife and other natural resources.

"Wisconsin farmers are holding up their end of the bargain," she added. "It’s time for Congress to recognize the importance of conservation to the future of agriculture and provide the funding needed to continue this valuable program."

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