September 5, 2003
No More Making Hay
In May this year I went to our county's Ag Center to apply for the Department of Agriculture's 2003 CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). The CRP is a federal program in which the government pays you not to grow crops on farmland in order to put aside thousands of acres (nationwide) for wildlife habitat. The program contract runs for ten years and during the ten years, the land (for the most part) is left untouched. The land owner is responsible for keeping noxious weeds in check, but other than that, the land is not to be plowed, seeding, grazed, harvested or modified in any way. During certain times of the contract, the government may allow you to graze or hay the grasses, but it is at their discretion.
I thought long and hard about applying for the ten-year program. Five years would have been a no-brainer since I probably would still be working on the house or some other outbuilding, but ten years seemed awfully long. I have been considering trying my hand at small-scale organic farming, but what crop would I grow and would I be able to generate any real income? It's was a subject that I hadn't spent much time considering, but now I was faced with making a decision. Signing up for the program would mean that our prime growing acreage would be unusable for ten years. But it would also mean receiving an income for the next ten years while providing habitat for wildlife.
The year after we bought the land, the field was sowed with oats, rye and alfalfa (it was originally corn) and the field really took off. The number of lightning bugs that spring was astounding. They enjoyed perching on the tall grass stems and at night, it resembled looking at city lights from an airplane. Mother deer hid their young and turkey hens raised their chicks in the tall grass. Once the grass went to seed, Indigo Buntings flocked to the field to feast on the harvest. I was quite amazed by how the field attracted wildlife.
The second year I allowed a local farmer to take the hay off the field for his cattle since his land was flooded by the Root River. Ever since, I've allowed him to cut the field. The problem with this scenario is that the best time to cut hay tends to coincide with the nesting season and by disturbing the habitat, I'm sure it has had a negative impact on the wildlife.
After contemplating what to do, I decided to apply for the program but do nothing to enhance the number of points awarded to the plot of land. For example, planting trees and/or bidding the acreage at a lower rate would increase the points awarded. By bidding the land at the highest price, I ran the risk of the land being rejected. If this occurred, well...so be it.
I went to the office with proof of ownership and other legal documents in order to file the application. Low and behold, after the clerk looked through all the paperwork, no documents had ever been filed showing that the land had been in corn for the 1996 growing season. Because of this, I was not eligible for the program unless I could have two witnesses sign a legal document stating that the land was in corn in 1996.
I found this quite amusing, since it was their department missing the paperwork. Since they didn't have the paperwork from 1996, I couldn't go ahead and apply without the witnesses. I figured I could get one signature from the farmer who seeded the field for me in 1997, but where was I to get a second signature? I decided to his mother to sign the form. She drove by the property a number of times, so she was a legitimate witness and there was no stipulation as to whether the witnesses could be related or not. She signed the form and with my two witnesses, the application was finally accepted.
Once the forms were submitted, I was told that it would take a few months before I would know if the land would be accepted into the program, so I waited patiently.
Finally, a few weeks ago the Department of Agriculture stated on their website that the CRP sign-up had been completed. It stated the average price per acre that was accepted was about half of what I bid. I figured at this point that our land didn't get approved, and I would chalk this one up to experience.
Surprisingly, last week I received a letter in the mail stating that my bid had been accepted and that I must arrange for a meeting with the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) within fifteen days or be severely penalized. (Gotta love the government.) Needless to say, I called their office last week and made an appointment to guess what? Sign more documents!
I feel good about how this has all worked out. Our land will help the local wildlife and we'll be getting a check every year from the government. It will be interesting to see how the field evolves from year to year left undisturbed.
This week I successfully plastered my fourth cordobe window and I thought I would give an update on the other three windows that already have been completed.
The first cordobe window looks great. If you look closely though there is a very tiny hairline crack that runs a few inches across one of the tall vertical sides of the window. At some point I may go back and rub on a little wet plaster to hide the crack, but unless you are really looking for it, it's virtually invisible.
The results of the second cordobe window shows no cracks in the window plaster whatsoever, but a rather sizable crack has appeared directly underneath the window running from one of the corners into the cordwood wall. This particular wall is 17' high and was built within 10 days of mortaring. My theory is that even with sand added to the paper mix, there still is some shrinkage that occurs as the mortar dries and 17' worth of mortar will probably shrink enough to cause some cracks to form. Since the window frame is affixed in place, it seems logical that the shrinking mortar might pull away from the window frame. I have since repaired the crack and no other cracks have formed to date.
I am currently working on another 17' wall containing two windows and have elected to stop at the 8' mark and let the mortar cure for 3 to 4 days before continuing up to the ceiling. It will be interesting to compare the two walls once they are dry to see if this helps alleviate the cracks from occurring. We shall see.
Can anyone I.D. this? The leaves/petals seem to turn color similar to a poinsettia. This plant is growing on the side of a sand pile and is about a foot or so in height. I spent about an hour trying to ID this with no luck.