Dane County pilots $750K farm runoff program

Associated Press
Dane County farmers who participate in a trial continuous cover program can convert lands used for row crops into prairie lands, perennial grasses or land for grazing cattle.

This year Dane County plans to spend $750,000 this year on a pilot program that pays farmers to plant cover crops in an effort to curb runoff from heavy rains and snowmelt.

Farmers are encouraged to apply for grants in its continuous cover program through May 31, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The initiative is part of the county's larger effort to clean up its lakes and streams, said County Executive Joe Parisi. Runoff into the county's bodies of water can feed algae blooms.

"We have kind of a unique challenge in that we have four lakes that run smack through the middle of the county," he said. "And because we are such an ag-intensive county, also one of the challenges we have to deal with is runoff when we have heavy rains from our ag lands."

Farmers participating in the trial program will have to set aside at least half an acre of land, and up to 40 acres, for 15 years. They'll receive funding based on several factors, including number of acres and vegetation costs.

The program will be able to fund a total of 300 acres this year.

Farmers can convert lands currently used for row crops into prairie lands, perennial grasses or land for grazing cattle.

Row crops can leave behind bare soil for months after harvest, which can expose it to erosion and runoff.

Prairie land can help reduce runoff and absorb water during flooding, while perennial grasses serve as buffers between streams and crops, catching runoff.

"We felt that here locally in Dane County, there was a lot of appetite for this," Parisi said. "We could get a big bang for the buck, both in helping our smaller family farmers and in reducing runoff."

The county expects there to be more demand than funding this year, Parisi said.

"Our farmers care deeply about the land, they want to keep the soil on the land," Parisi said. "They care about our natural environment, but they don't always have the means ... to implement some of these practices on their own."