Steve Garbisch talks about his 75 acres of cropland in Red Rock Township being newly enrolled into permanent conservation through the MN CREP program during a ceremony March 13, 2019, at the Mower Soil & Water Conservation District office in Austin. Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson (right) and board members (left-right) Jim Gebhardt, Jim Kellogg, Micah Peterson and Randy Smith thanked Garbisch for being the first in Mower County to enroll land in MN CREP.

Mower gets first MN CREP signup

Garbisch family enrolls 75 farm acres into permanent conservation in upper Cedar River Watershed

March 13, 2019 — Steve Garbisch remembers camping often as a child in the 1960s along Roberts Creek on his family farm near Brownsdale, watching the nightly passenger train pass on its way from Minneapolis to Omaha, Neb.

“It was always neat to see the lighted passenger cars with people inside,” Garbisch said.

Garbisch spent a lot of time exploring the woods, pasture and creek — a tributary of the Cedar River — on his family’s 160 acres in Red Rock Township. He has many memories with the land, which include farming and dealing with water issues that he addressed with tiling in the 1990s.

“I can still walk out on the land and show you where my dad or grandfather got stuck while farming,” said Garbisch, whose family has owned the land since 1934. “This land is sandy clay, and when it was wet, it was very wet. The tile really helped and made a pretty decent farm out of it.”

Nearing retirement, Garbisch and his wife, Sharrie, who own the 160-acre property, have new plans for their remaining 75 acres of farm land by enrolling it in the MN CREP program that permanently restores it into conservation acres with native plantings. About 10 years ago, they enrolled most of their eastern, 80-acre parcel into permanent conservation in a previous CREP round.

Both of the CREP easements (separated by Mower County Road 16) on the Garbisch property — new MN CREP on left and older CREP on right — shown with red lines. Subwatersheds are differentiated by color.

This is Mower County’s first signup for the latest round of MN CREP launched in 2017. A second MN CREP signup for Mower County also has been finalized for 6.3 acres of cropland owned by the Loucks family (Richard & Brenda Loucks and Dennis & Julie Loucks) along Rose Creek in Austin Township.

Many years ago, Garbisch, who has farmed the land since the early 1980s when he and his wife also built a home there, decided he didn’t want to try farming full time because he had a successful sales career and no family interested in farming. With that proving to be a good decision, he said, MN CREP seemed like a great fit for the land’s future.

“I don’t think I could enjoy watching someone else farm our land,” said Garbisch, who bought his siblings’ shares on the family land in 2018. “My son, Chris, and his family love nature and being outdoors. With MN CREP, this conservation land will be there for them to enjoy for many years after we’re gone.”

MN CREP is a voluntary state-federal program designed to improve water quality and wildlife habitat through permanent conservation easements that keep the land under private ownership. MN CREP was created to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres of marginal cropland across 54 southern and western Minnesota counties, including Mower, by using vegetative buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead protection.

Landowners accepted into MN CREP enroll in the federal USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for 14 to 15 years. At the same time, the land is put into a permanent conservation easement through the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) program.

Mower SWCD watershed technician James Fett, who helps landowners with MN CREP and other conservation programs, worked with the Garbisch family in the signup process that included planting a vegetative cover of oats for the 2018 growing season.

Permanent restoration of the Garbisch family’s 75-acre parcel hopefully will happen later this year, Fett said, and restore hydrology to the site, which will be seeded down with a highly diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habit while also preventing erosion and filtering surface and ground water. Restoration efforts will include tile breaks, tile blocks, scrapes, embankment construction and daylighting tile. All these restoration efforts will restore hydrology to the site.

“It’s wonderful that the Garbisch family enrolled into MN CREP,” Fett said. “Their parcel’s close proximity to Roberts Creek will benefit water quality and enhance the existing wildlife corridor in their area.”

With the Garbisch family’s 75 conservation acres, Fett said, about 615 acres in a 2-square-mile area — nearly half of that land — now will be in conservation programs or part of the woods and floodplains along Roberts Creek. The creek makes a large loop cutting through the west and east ends of the Garbisch family’s 160 acres that are split equally by Mower County Road 16.

Back in the 1950s-1960s, Steve Garbisch’s parents raised free-range turkeys and alternated each 80-acre parcel for the turkey range. Now, Garbisch still sees turkeys on the same land (especially the “east 80” acreage in CREP) but they are wild now.

“On our existing CREP land, it’s fun to walk out in the 5-foot-tall grass and flush a pheasant or have a deer get up in front of you,” Garbisch said. “We have a lot of wild turkeys, deer and our pheasant population has started to come back.”

He’s excited to see how the MN CREP seeding will turn out on his “west 80” acreage. With nearby properties also hosting large pieces of conservation land, Garbisch said his rural neighborhood is in a unique habitat situation.

“Our creek bottom supports a lot of geese and ducks,” he said, “and we even have sandhill cranes that return every year.”

Mower County landowners interested in MN CREP should contact James Fett, Mower SWCD, at 507–434–2603, ext. 5, or by email at james.fett@mowerswcd.org.

Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson speaks in May 2017 at the kickoff for the new MN CREP round at an event on Roger Peterson’s CREP land along the Cedar River in Udolpho Township, south of Blooming Prairie.