Midwest Regional Conservation Reserve Program workshops train conservation planners to help landowners preserve natural resources
That random strip of flowering native plants along a corn field that looks as though it were cultivated on purpose, is likely a conservation buffer. Conservation buffers are small strips of land with permanent vegetation, which can effectively mitigate the movement of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides within and from farm fields and also provides pollinator habitat. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which is administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), providing farmers with annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to help them establish long-term resource-conserving covers such as buffers on eligible farmland. CRP programs protect millions of acres of topsoil from erosion and reduce water runoff and sedimentation, protecting groundwater, and improving the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. This spring, the NRCS rolled out a series of regional CRP workshops across the nation to train conservation planners in assisting landowners in natural resource conservation. University of Minnesota Extension and WRC co-director Faye Sleeper coordinated an instruction team to conduct workshops in Detroit Lakes, MN, Lacrosse, WI, Denison, IA, Quincy, IL, and Sioux Falls, SD.
“The NRCS is concerned about increasing demand for qualified CRP conservation planners, and a decrease in personnel due to retirements,” said Sleeper. The workshops were designed to train independent conservation professionals, registered technical service providers, members of conservation associations, and various state agency employees. Instructors Robert Honeman and Timothy Gieseke guided the workshops. Honeman is retired from the NRCS, where he was a Resource Conservationist, and Gieseke is president of Ag Resource Strategies where he develops on-farm assessments and related conservation training.
The CRP workshops covered the paperwork, process, and resources necessary to complete the CRP plan documentation, and included land management subjects such as Native Pollinators, Habitat Guides, Invasive Species Management and Wildlife Enhancement. Participants also have access to online support through national webinars, supplemental courses, and also to conservation professional mentors. “The CRP planning process is more in-depth than what most participants expect, but the hands-on training with on-line resources and mentorship provides the necessary support for those interested in being part of this new CRP opportunity”, said Gieseke.
Workshop instructor Tim Gieseke assists CRP workshop attendees
with training exercises.