A local farmer considers options for marginal land

Peninsula Pride Farms held a Conservation Conversation on June 20. PPF members Mike and Terri Vandenhouten and their son, Marc hosted the field event to discuss options of what to do with a 20-acre parcel which is their lowest-producing land. They said it is only profitable one out of every five years.  

Farmers will almost always want to find a way to keep production farmland in farming, but sometimes they need to look at another option to help with conservation and profitability. The parcel in question, in a normal year, is very wet and often floods. It’s low land near a small waterway. When Mike’s son Marc moved close to home they started questioning if this piece would be better used for woodland and groomed for hunting.

Zak Werner is the executive director for Door, Kewaunee and Brown Counties FSA. He has shared ideas with Mike on what they can do for Conservation Reserve Programs. He presented to the 20 attendees many different “doors” to get into FSA programs. The three different options he explained that evening was Continuous/CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program), SAFE CRP (State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement) and General CRP.

“We can take existing farmland. Land that’s been cropped from 2012 to 2017, and we have options through CRP to convert it to either tree plantings or wildlife cover, including pollinators and other grass mixes that can take that existing cropland and put it into more conserving use,” Werner said.

These options all require different contracts that usually last 10-15 years but often have a good incentive payment per acre and some offer cost-share dollars to get the covers established. Currently, in Door County, there are nearly 2,200 acres in CRP programs.

The group discussed some reasons why landowners would consider CRP and why some would not. Some people want it because they want to enhance deer hunting land, landowners aren’t getting paid rent, or it might prove to be more profitable than cropping. Some people wouldn’t use these programs due to the long commitment of the contract, it takes a lot of work to establish the tree or cover growth and needs continuous maintenance spraying or digging weeds, etc.

There were also a couple of representatives from other agencies including The Nature Conservancy and Door County Land and Water Conservation to talk through the environmental benefits and options.

The ultimate question remains for Mike and his family to decide what is their end goal with that part of land, and how the options compare to farming it.

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