FAQ: USDA has a conservation compliance rule to prevent conversion of wetlands to row crops. The drainage district I belong to wants to update and extend the tile drainage system on a low area in my neighborhood and it would require draining a wetland on ground I own. What can I do to ensure I maintain eligibility to receive USDA farm program benefits?
Answer: When a drainage district makes improvements, such as increasing the size of the main line, landowners connected to the system need be sure to follow wetland compliance or Swampbuster provisions, says Marty Adkins, state resource conservationist of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa. He offers the following explanation and suggestions.
Swampbuster is a conservation compliance provision introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill. A part of the Wetland Conservation Compliance Provisions, Swampbuster is meant to discourage conversion of wetlands for production of agricultural commodities. It states that people who convert wetlands after December 23, 1985, for the purpose of making production of ag commodities more possible, will be ineligible for USDA benefits until the functions of the converted wetlands are mitigated or restored. Converted Wetlands or CW lands are those that have been drained, dredged, filled or leveled or where woody vegetation has been removed.
You can use a mitigation site to help protect your eligibility
"If a wetland exists on your property and you are connected to an improved drainage district system, you are affected. Distance to the main line is not a factor. There are actions you need to take to protect your eligibility for USDA benefits," says Adkins.
One of these actions may be mitigation, which allows landowners to replace the lost functions, values and acres of the existing wetland through the restoration of a prior converted or PC wetland, enhancement of an existing wetland or creation of a new wetland.
The mitigation site doesn't have to be on your farm, says Adkins. It could be part of a mitigation bank, on property owned by your local county or even a neighbor's farm. If you don't own the land, the owner must agree to restoring and maintaining a wetland. The mitigation plan must be approved by NRCS.
Steps to take if your drainage district is making improvements
Following are steps to take, as suggested by Adkins, if your drainage district is planning improvements or has made improvements:
* Determine if you have a certified wetland determination by visiting your NRCS office. If so, you will need to mitigate if you choose to continue to grow crops on the affected land.
* You must develop an NRCS-approved mitigation plan and file an easement on the restored wetland areas in the mitigation plan. CRP acres cannot be used to mitigate wetlands. An alternative would be to buy wetland mitigation credits at an approved mitigation bank, if one is available in your area. In either case, an analysis will be needed to determine the size and restoration actions on the mitigation land.
* You must cover all costs associated with the mitigation, including the restoration work, developing and filing the easement and any land right costs. No federal funds can be used in the mitigation process.For more information, contact your local NRCS field office or visit www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov