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Check with USDA before you clear or drain land for farming

“Before you clear trees, fill or drain any potential new cropland, check it out with USDA,” says Jason Barrick, District Conservationist for St. Croix County. “Don’t risk your USDA program benefits.” Jason is the new USDA NRCS District Conservationist for St. Croix County and is reminding farmers that Conservation Compliance is still in effect, and violations could have long-lasting impacts. “It’s better to check first so you know what you’re doing in advance,” says Jason.

Highly Erodible Land 

The Food Security Act of 1985, as amended in later farm bills, requires that all persons producing agricultural commodities must protect all cropland classified as highly erodible from excessive erosion. Sometimes referred to as “Sodbuster”, this means that any new land being brought into crop production must be farmed following a conservation plan if that land is considered highly erodible. Existing highly erodible cropland must also be farmed in accordance with an NRCS-approved conservation plan.

Farming highly erodible land without out a conservation plan puts one out of compliance, and in jeopardy of losing all USDA farm program benefits, including Disaster Assistance and Farm Loans.

“If you plan to bring any new land into production, contact the USDA Service Center to find out if the land is highly erodible,” says Jason. Farmers must follow an approved conservation plan that reduces erosion to tolerable soil loss level on all highly erodible cropland, both new and existing.

Wetland Conservation

If you drain, clear trees, fill, or otherwise manipulate a wetland so that it can be cropped, or to improve crop production on wet fields, you may lose eligibility for USDA programs. Before you do any alteration to a wet area, including clearing trees or maintenance of existing drainage, contact the USDA Service Center for a wetland determination. Don’t risk your eligibility for USDA programs.

In addition, a wetland compliance issue stays with the landowner, even if the land is sold. The converted wetland area also remains ineligible for USDA program benefits until the violation is mitigated or restored.

To maintain eligibility, USDA farm program participants self-certify every year that they have not produced crops on converted wetlands after December 23, 1985, and did not convert a wetland after November 28, 1990, to make agricultural production possible. Drainage on wetlands that were converted to cropland prior to 1985 may be maintained, but check with USDA before adding or repairing drainage systems.

To check to see if the activity you are planning is allowed, contact the USDA Service Center serving your county. For more information on Conservation Compliance, contact your local USDA Service Center.