Local and regional agencies/organizations occasionally offer special financial incentives to landowners within their jurisdiction (e.g., within a county or watershed) for one or more selected conservation practices. These incentives are "special" because they are available only locally and for a limited time, typically as part of a broader conservation initiative funded by a federal or state grant. In Minnesota, the local/regional entities that apply for and receive these grants include primarily soil & water conservation districts, watershed organizations, counties & municipalities and Resource Conservation & Development offices. Common sources of grants are described below.
Some local conservation payments are intended to augment or "piggyback" existing payment offers from federal or state conservation programs for the same practice on the same land. Sometimes this is done in order to bolster a low payment rate or draw more attention to an underutilized but locally important practice.
In other cases local conservation payments are meant to provide an alternative to existing programs. For example, a local program might offer payments for a practice that qualifies for—but has not received funding from—an existing federal or state conservation program due to limited funding or a gap in the timing of enrollment opportunities (such that the federal or state funds are not available at the time a landowner is able to proceed). Sometimes, a local program will pay for a practice (or practice variation) that satisfies local conservation priorities but doesn't meet federal or state conservation program eligibility requirements or standards, or a new and innovative practice that isn't yet funded by federal or state programs.
Some landowners find it easier to participate in a small local program than a larger state or federal program. Many past participants in local conservation payment offers, who also qualified for federal or state program payments for the same conservation practice, say that they chose to forego federal or state payments because of the additional time and paperwork required.
Local entities in Minnesota use several sources of federal and state grant funds to provide incentives to landowners for conservation practices—usually as part of broader conservation initiatives that involve complementary activities such as monitoring, research, demonstration and education. The most common sources are the federal Clean Water Partnership and Clean Water Act Section 319 programs, both administered in Minnesota by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Clean Water Legacy Act implementation funds administered jointly by several state agencies.
Minnesota's State Cost-Share Program also operates via grants to local entities. In this Conservation Funding Guide, however, State Cost-Share is treated as a state program rather than a local program because the funds are available continuously statewide.
In addition to the most common sources of funding for local conservation programs described above, other sources of funding include, but are not limited to, the grant programs listed below. It is up to local entities to learn about and apply for these grants.
Below are examples of past and present conservation incentives offered by local or regional entities with funding from some of the sources described above. Contact your local Soil & Water Conservation District or other local organization to see if similar local or regional conservation incentives are currently offered in your area.
Elk Creek Conservation Tillage Incentive Program
From 2006 to April 2009, as part of a Clean Water Act Section 319 grant, the Heron Lake Watershed District offered incentives to producers in the Elk Creek watershed to practice conservation tillage for up to three years. Payments ranged from $7/acre to $20/acre per year, depending on the type of conservation tillage. For more information, see the project's 319 grant report. A previous 319 grant offered payments for terraces, grass waterways, critical area plantings and wetland restoration in the Elk Creek watershed.
Dakota County Farmland and Natural Areas Program
Dakota County's Farmland and Natural Areas Program is designed to address the loss of farmland and natural areas in a rapidly urbanizing part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The program acquires conservation easements or fee title from willing landowners to protect large, contiguous agricultural areas and to protect and connect selected priority natural areas. As of June 2008, the county had acquired 20 permanent agricultural conservation easements totaling 2,224 acres for a total cost of over $11 million. The cost to the county, however, was just over $4.4 million, due to a combination of landowner donations and 50% matching funds from the USDA NRCS Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program.
Three Rivers "Productive Conservation on Working Lands" Program
Productive Conservation on Working Lands is a regional demonstration program of the Three Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Council (RCD) that offers financial incentives to farmers to try alternative crops that provide multiple conservation benefits. The incentives are funded by a USDA NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant. Farmers have been offered up to $150/acre to establish native grasses for biomass or seed, hybrid poplar, hybrid hazelnuts, native berry bushes, willows for biomass, and native flowers for seed. The program runs through November 2010 and includes efforts by the RCD to develop markets and value-added opportunities for the alternative crops being promoted.
Whitewater Watershed Cover Crop Program
From 2001 to 2006, as part of a Clean Water Act Section 319 grant, the Whitewater River Watershed Project offered producers $7/acre per year to plant cover crops for up to three years. Recipients were allowed to "piggyback" the locally offered payment on top of federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) payments for cover cropping.