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Dane County tries out $750K farm-runoff program

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Dane County plans to spend $750,000 this year to test out paying farmers to plant cover crops in an attempt to curb runoff from heavy rains and snowmelt.

Dane County is encouraging farmers to apply, before May 31, for grants from its continuous-cover program, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The initiative is part of the county’s larger effort to clean up its lakes and streams, said County Executive Joe Parisi. Runoff into the county’s bodies of water can feed algae blooms.

“We have kind of a unique challenge in that we have four lakes that run smack through the middle of the county,” he said. “And because we are such an ag-intensive county, also one of the challenges we have to deal with is runoff when we have heavy rains from our ag lands.”

Farmers taking part in the trial program will have to set aside at least half an acre of land, and up to 40 acres, for 15 years. They’ll receive money for some reasons, including how many acres they set aside and vegetation costs.

The program will be able to pay for 300 acres this year.

Farmers can take land now used for row crops and use it for prairie lands, perennial grasses or land for grazing cattle.

Planting crops in rows can leave behind bare soil for months after a harvest, which can make conditions right for erosion and runoff.

Prairie land can help reduce runoff and absorb water during flooding, and perennial grasses can serve as buffers between streams and crops, catching runoff.

“We felt that here locally in Dane County, there was a lot of appetite for this,” Parisi said. “We could get a big bang for the buck, both in helping our smaller family farmers and in reducing runoff.”

The county expects there to be more demand than money this year, Parisi said.

“Our farmers care deeply about the land, they want to keep the soil on the land,” Parisi said. “They care about our natural environment, but they don’t always have the means … to implement some of these practices on their own.”

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