When Hoese Dairy Inc. expanded its 135-year-old family operation, it doubled the number of cows milked and acres tilled. Now, it’s tapping Conservation Stewardship Program options and exploring community connections to further position the farm for the future.

Eric and Erica Hoese run the 130-cow, 1,250-acre Carver County dairy with Eric’s parents, Scott and Yvonne Hoese. It’s too early to predict whether any of their children — ages 4, 8 and 10 — will take over.

For now, Eric, 35, handles the dairy operation, manages the finances and helps with fieldwork.

The Hoeses are entering their fourth year of a five-year CSP contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. On 500 acres, they’re fine-tuning fertilizer application through grid sampling, precision sprayer technology, nitrogen stabilization and nitrogen testing in corn stalks.

Producers who implement the plans receive an annual payment each year for five years.

Hoese estimated that the farm receives about $15,000 a year in payments after expenses — including work with a crop consultant who provides much of the required documentation.

“Any revenue stream could help a dairy farm,” Hoese said.

May 10 is the next CSP application deadline for fiscal year 2019 funding. The fiscal year runs through Sept. 30. Those who enroll now and complete the requirements would receive their first payment this fall or, if they prefer for tax purposes, early next year.

The NRCS plans to invest up to $700 million for new enrollments and contract extensions. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized sign-ups until 2023 and made program improvements such as higher payment rates for cover crops and resource-conserving crop rotations.

CSP gives producers an opportunity to build upon their operation’s existing conservation and stewardship activities.

Available in all 50 states through continuous sign-ups, the program applies to working crop, pasture, range or forest lands. Plans are tailored to individuals. Payments help to maintain the conservation and stewardship activities in place at the time of application, plus carry out the agreed-upon enhancements. Most operations receive more than the $1,500 minimum annual payment.

Keith Kloubec, NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs, said dairy farmers likely have several conservation and stewardship activities in place already.

“Many dairy farms have existing crop rotations that include hay. (They) follow nutrient management plans, have livestock grazing systems in place and perform other conservation activities that address the environmental resource (needs) of the operation,” Kloubec said.

A range of enhancements might fit a dairy operation.

“There are a variety of activities available, with many targeted at decreasing farm inputs, improving yields, increasing the health of soils and improving livestock health,” Kloubec said.

As a result of CSP activities, Hoese said the farm has fine-tuned its lime application — which varies from 1 ton per acre to 5 tons per acre — and slightly reduced its nitrogen application on second-year corn on alfalfa. The effort has cut fertilizer costs, made nitrogen available to crops when it’s most needed and reduced leaching.

Benefits extend beyond the five years of payments to maintain stewardship levels and offset costs associated with improvements.

CSP is meant to boost an operation’s long-term resiliency.

“A lot of the things we’re looking at (involve) being better stewards overall. If a farmer has healthier soils — and good nutrient and pest management — that gives you more ability to handle some wet conditions, some drought, some pests, some disease,” Kloubec said. “Improvements to soil, plant and livestock health through activities in CSP can help build resiliency during times of extreme weather conditions.”

When the Hoeses’ CSP contract expires, Hoese said, he may consider pursuing another one to try cover crops or no-till.

Meanwhile, the farm 20 miles from Interstate 494 is increasing its public presence.

Hoese Dairy Inc. launched a Facebook page six months ago. The Hoeses will host more than 3,000 guests for the county’s annual Breakfast on the Farm this summer. Hoese is helping with a podcast for students that talks about technology on the farm. He’s considering agri-tourism and direct-marketing options.

“We’re looking at future generations and profitability-wise what can we do better to help the dairy industry,” Hoese said.

Hoese advises those considering CSP sign-up to carefully consider how much land to enroll and whether it’s possible to meet requirements and complete the paperwork. He spends about 20 hours a year on paperwork. A crop consultant provides much of the required documentation.

The Hoeses’ application included many of the same questions they answered for their Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program application.

To sign up for the CSP, contact a local NRCS office.

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