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Published March 29, 2011, 08:22 AM

RIM program contains long-term issues, needs change

TYLER, Minn. — I am a 61 year old farmer near Tyler, Minn. I am writing on behalf of one my kids and another family who have purchased land with RIM parcels on it.

By: Alan Roelofs,

TYLER, Minn. — I am a 61 year old farmer near Tyler, Minn. I am writing on behalf of one my kids and another family who have purchased land with RIM parcels on it.

In 1986, the state of Minnesota started the Reinvest in Minnesota program. It was started and currently is supported by conservation, environmental and farm groups and the state Board of Water and Soil Resources, and is administered locally by soil and water conservation districts.

A variety of land types are eligible: wetland restoration areas, riparian agricultural lands, marginal cropland, pastured hillsides and sensitive groundwater areas. Some very productive farmland also was enrolled, including land capable of raising 200-bushel corn, 55-bushel beans, or 6 tons of hay in a good year.

Farmers were paid up front to sign perpetual conservation easements on their property. A lot of the land was put into the program after farmers had suffered a period of financial stress in the 1980s. The RIM program was short-sighted. It only looked at how well it would work during the first 15 or 20 years of the program, when the original owner had the land and was receiving CRP payments. It did not take into account what would happen after the original owner died or sold the farm.

I think clean water is a worthy goal. I believe in using filter strips, erosion control and pollution control measures.

In severe weather, I feed the pheasants that live in our evergreens and choke cherry and plum thickets.

Program problems

However, I do not believe in the RIM program or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. On moral grounds, it doesn’t make sense. How can a landowner, who only is the steward of the land for his or her lifetime, sign an agreement that is perpetual and completely limits forever what every new steward after him or her can do with the land?

How could the state offer the agreement in the first place? Looks a little crooked to me. After the CREP portion of the contract runs out, there is no compensation for the new owners. The first owner benefited. The new owner does not.

New owners are responsible for the maintenance of the land, keeping invasive species out and paying property tax in perpetuity. The new owner, in effect, is a partial slave to the state or special interest groups.

A special interest group is defined as a group that obtains an unfair advantage. The RIM program is a perfect example of what a coalition of special interest groups can accomplish.

Eventually, all land goes to new stewards. If the new steward is not an avid hunter, how much pride will he or she have in the conservation acres located on his or her property when there is no income potential from the property?

Conservation acres need to be maintained, and it costs money to maintain those acres. Just ask the Department of Natural Resources. Would you like to be the soil and water conservation district person that tells owners to maintain their conservation acres? This is a very problematic program.

Proposed changes

The State of Minnesota should allow the perpetual easements to be bought out at the time of sale of the land or at the time of death of the landowner. The state could place some restrictions on it, such as maintaining 16- to 32-foot filter strips along creek banks, which could be hayed after mid-July. This would help out nesting birds and keep sediment and pollutants out of the creek. Allowing perpetual easements to be bought out would help the state budget. It also would help the economy by letting productive acres be productive again.

This is a statewide issue. In my little local area, I know of five families affected by this issue. There has to be hundreds statewide.

Within the last year, we have witnessed agricultural shortfalls in various parts of the world with little reserve cushion.

The Minnesota beef cow herd has been cut from 751,000 cows on Jan. 1, 1976 to 380,000 cows on Jan. 1, 2010.

The Native Americans raised a superior meat animal — buffalo — on their conservation acres. The best we do is a few pheasants, ducks and deer. Conservation acres have gone up tremendously since 1965, when I was a kid.

Minnesota is the third-largest public land owner in the United States behind the federal government and the state of Alaska.

Allowing new landowners to buy back productive RIM acres would provide substantial revenue to the state. Some of the more productive land that was taken out of production is worth six or seven times as much as when it was put into RIM. The majority of Minnesotans would benefit by increased agricultural production. The overall rural economy would be improved.

Not legitimate

This is different than a windtower perpetual easement. Windtower owners pay a production tax and property tax and take care of their own roads, substations, towers, tower pads and equipment. I do not honor, respect or feel that RIM perpetual easements are legitimate.

Get in contact with your legislator. I see no reason why my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren need to be slaves to the state of Minnesota. Neither do yours. If there is no other way, I think a class-action lawsuit would be appropriate.

It is time to “Reinvest in Minnesota” and let productive land be productive while still maintaining filter strips.


Editor’s Note: Roelofs is a farmer near Tyler, Minn.