Many farmers and other landowners who have been practicing good stewardship on their farms have enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Programs (CSP.)
Calvin Sebranek, owner of Fancy Creek Farms, Richland Center and his family were honored last week in Madison for their conservation efforts and for the fact that they enrolled the 800,000th acre in Wisconsin under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program.
The award, given by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, NRCS and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection was to honor Sebranek for his “exemplary stewardship practices and years of commitment to implementing conservation in his operations.”
The CSP is different from most conservation programs in that it rewards farmers for conservations practices they have already implemented as well as adoption of new conservation enhancements. In Wisconsin, payments can be made for enhancements addressing air quality, conserving crop rotations, energy, plant and animal concerns, soil quality, soil erosion and water quality.
During a brief award ceremony for the Sebranek family at the meeting of the DATCP board last week, Secretary Ben Brancel said it was a privilege to honor “people that make a difference” adding that the Sebraneks are “serious about their business.”
Jimmy Bramblett, state conservationist with the NRCS, said this program recognizes people who are already doing good things for conservation on their land. “They are trying to think about future generations.
“People come to the CSP already being good conservationists, good stewards and express an interest in continuing,” he added.
Conservation practices have always been important to the Sebraneks. Calvin recalls putting some conservation practices on the farm with his father and credited NRCS District Conservationist Carlton Peterson for working with him to continue that legacy.
“I want to leave my farm in better condition than when I got it,” he said. With him at the award ceremony were his wife Joyce, son Terry and daughter Kimberley Spencer.
Their farm totals 400 acres of which 325 is tillable. They contract raise 80 head of dairy heifers as well as their own 300 head of Holstein steers.
The family recently held a celebration for the 100th birthday of Calvin’s late father Robert, who created much of the conservation foundation for the farm.
They have continued his flood control programs and have installed a mile of stream bank rip rap on their land and added trout habitat structures to the stream. The family has completed a nutrient management plan for their land and with the purchase of an adjacent farm has extended contour strips out from their farm.
Calvin said he had his eye on the neighbor’s land for 30 years because he could envision how the contour strips would look going along the hillside for a mile.
Another project the family is planning is a livestock waterer. Sebranek said he has 400 acres enrolled in the CSP in one form or another. “Some of it is in the contour strips on the hillside. And the rip rap we are doing in the creek now helps the bottom fields. It all benefits from the program.”
He said Peterson has helped him identify programs, projects and techniques that could be of use to him and make sense to implement on his land.
Sebranek credits the close working relationship with his conservationist for helping protect the environment and also increase the effectiveness of his farm. Using the kinds of conservation practices he has implemented, he said, helps him “raise better crops, control the erosion using no-till on the hillsides and it’s just the right way to do it. It’s the way I’ve always been taught. It’s the only way I know how to do it.”
Margaret Krome, with Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, said she’s not aware of any other state department of agriculture that recognizes the importance of a federal program like the CSP “and we want to recognize that collaboration.”
Sebranek said that being the 800,000th acre in the program in Wisconsin wasn’t planned -- it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Over 300 Wisconsin farmers enrolled 94,425 acres during the 2013 signup pushing the state’s total up over the 800,000-acre mark.
CSP signup open
Also during the award ceremony Bramblett said the NRCS is opening the CSP for a new enrollment period for 2014.
The program, he said, helps farmers ensure that their operations are more productive and sustainable over the long run.
The CSP is a farm bill conservation program that helps established conservation stewards raise their level of natural resource management to the next level to improve both their farm production and provide valuable conservation benefits and in some cases better wildlife habitat.
Bramblett said the program is an example of USDA’s focus on environmental conservation and is a reminder that the new farm bill is pivotal to continue these efforts. The CSP is now in its fifth year and so far NRCS has partnered with producers to enroll more than 59 million acres in the country, including the 800,000 in Wisconsin.
The program emphasizes conservation performance – producers earn higher payments for higher performance.
Applications can be submitted to the agency through to be eligible during the 2014 fiscal year. While local NRCS office accept CSP applications year around, the agency evaluates applications during announced ranking periods.
To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date, .
Some popular enhancements used by farmers and ranchers include:
For more information, farmers may visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov , or contact the NRCS office at the USDA Service Center serving their county.