CSP aids farm’s green regime
More than four decades of conserving soil and attracting wildlife is paying off for the Bensink family of rural Pleasantville in southern Iowa. The Bensinks signed a five-year contract in 2010 to receive payments through USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, to further enhance their environmentally friendly 468-acre farm.
CSP provides financial and technical assistance to help land stewards further conserve and enhance soil, water, air and related natural resources on their land. The program, administered by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, encourages farmers to address resource concerns by undertaking additional conservation activities and improving and maintaining existing conservation systems.
• Versatile CSP program increases conservation opportunities on farm.
• Bensinks use a number of practices to hold precious topsoil on the land.
• They’ve installed habitat to attract migrating birds and prospective hunters.
The Bensinks moved to their original 400-acre farm in 1965. Today, Jack Bensink, a Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner, farms 320 cropland acres. The rest of the farm is in the Conservation Reserve Program, timber, switchgrass, and housing for pheasants, chukar and quail they raise for the Bensink Farms hunting preserve.
Make most of every acre
When farmers apply to enter CSP, the applications are ranked in eight separate natural resource areas: soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy. The applications with the highest overall rankings are the ones that are accepted.
Local NRCS district conservationist Jay Jung says Jack Bensink and his father, Henry, ranked high overall because of the diversity on their land and their resource protection activities. “This family has a relatively small operation, but what makes them unique is they try to get value out of every acre,” says Jung. “That value comes in their hunting preserve, along with good stewardship on their cropland. This includes limiting soil compaction, using soil erosion control practices and also using renewable energy practices.”
No-tillers for 25 years
Henry says they have no-tilled all of their cropland for about 25 years. In addition, the family has applied erosion control practices like contour buffer strips, terraces, field borders and grassed waterways. He says there is no doubt these conservation practices help reduce soil erosion and improve soil quality, but he says those aren’t the only benefits.
“Conservation farming is an advantage in the long run for your bottom line,” he notes. “It takes less machinery, less fuel and less time to farm this way.”
Many of these practices, like contour buffer strips and filter strips for water quality, also provide good habitat for birds. “It’s great for hunters,” says Henry. “They can walk around in a clean soybean field, and their dogs can work in the grass.”
Includes renewable energy
Jack also believes strongly in renewable energy. He recently received grants through the USDA Rural Development Agency’s Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, to install a wind turbine and solar panels. The wind turbine is already hooked to the electrical grid, and the solar panels will be soon. Jack says he wanted to install a wind turbine years ago but was just recently able to get the local energy company onboard. “The wind blows a lot here most all the time, and I thought we were wasting an opportunity by not taking advantage of it,” he says.
Tom O’Connor, coordinator of the CSP for NRCS in Iowa, says the stewardship program rewards farmers who are already making good conservation decisions, but the program also requires participants to take additional conservation measures.
These measures are called enhancements, with more than 100 of such options or activities available through CSP. The Bensinks are choosing an animal enhancement activity called Shallow Water Habitat, which is basically a small pond or wetland to hold water seasonally. The Bensinks feel they have the perfect 5-acre site for this practice that will attract wildlife that needs shallow water to lay eggs. NRCS engineers are designing the new shallow water area to be completed this year.
For more information about CSP, visit your local NRCS office, or see www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp2010.html.
Johnson is a public affairs specialist for USDA-NRCS in Iowa.
This article published in the February, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.