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Field Notes

How to help bees

Bees are amazing navigators and builders, the only insect that produces food eaten by humans. Now you can learn more about them at the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners of Douglas County's Gardening Brown Bag talk, one of a series of lunchtime sessions.

Lewis Struthers will talk on Tuesday, June 11, about the fascinating lives of bees, why they are vital and how to help them maintain a healthy population.

These hour-long gardening sessions are offered free of charge without pre-registration at noon in conjunction with the Douglas County Library. Participants may bring their lunch or snack to the library.

The next talk is connected to the Community Read choice, "Shelterbelts." Master gardeners Robin Trott and Pat Jepsen will speak on Tuesday, June 25, about victory gardens and the history of shelterbelts.

For more information, call 320-762-3890 or visit the extension office down the hall from the library.

Equipment safety training for farm kids

Farm kids can get hands-on with tractors, augers, telehandlers and other common farm equipment, and learn more about farm safety through a University of Minnesota Extension course.

The Tractor and Farm Safety Certification program combines online learning with hands-on activities and is designed for students 14 years and older. Upon completion of the program, students receive a certificate of training from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The online part takes one to two weeks. It culminates with two days of using equipment, educational talks, a written exam and a driver's skills test on June 11-12 at several locations, including the Stearns County Fairgrounds in Sauk Centre.

The course costs $25. For more information, visit z.umn.edu/48wj. To host at a different location, call Nathan Winter at 320-583-2257.

Land conservation program resumes

Landowners in Douglas County and 53 other western and southern Minnesota counties can once again apply to enroll in the Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a voluntary program that pays landowners to retire marginal cropland in favor of permanent conservation easements that protect environmentally-sensitive land.

The program has seen robust landowner participation, said John Jaschke, executive director of the state's Board of Water and Soil Resources, which oversees the program along with the USDA Farm Service Agency. "We look forward to seeing the benefits this next enrollment period will create for both agricultural producers and water quality," he said.

A joint state-federal effort, the program is designed to improve water quality and conserve habitat. It seeks to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres of marginal cropland using buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead area protection. Native plantings on those acres filter water, prevent erosion and provide critical habitat for grassland species including badgers, meadowlarks and monarch butterflies. Landowners have enrolled about 12,000 acres so far.

Enrollment was first available in May 2017, then put on hold in late 2018 to await passage of the new federal farm bill and USDA action.

Landowners simultaneously enroll land in a 14- to 15-year federal Conservation Reserve Program contract and a permanent Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve program conservation easement. Landowners receive payments to restore native vegetation on enrolled acres.

To learn more, visit www.bwsr.state.mn.us/crep.