The Washington County Board of Commissioners approved contracts with county farmers Feb. 16 to farm county park land during the 2021 growing season.

When Washington County acquires farmland within one of its regional parks, some of the land is often kept as cropland until it is needed for park purposes. In 2020, there was 241.95 acres of land leased for farming, and in 2021, there will be 284.06 acres of land leased, a 17.4% increase based on recent park acquisitions at Pine Point Regional Park and St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park.

After the next five years, cropland will be at 250.26 acres, as a result of 11 acres of cropland being taken out of production at Pine Point Regional Park and 23 acres at Lake Elmo Park Reserve for prairie restoration.

Rental rates paid for individual tracts of farmland depend on a number of factors applied to farming. This year, Washington County changed the bid from an annual lease to a five-year lease in the hope that a longer term contract would improve stewardship of the land, allow for staff time savings on developing the bid each year, and allow this time to be spent on initiatives, such as cover crops and obtaining agricultural water quality certification. In addition to a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides being used on the land, farmers accepting this year’s bid will work with Washington County and the Washington Conservation District to establish cover crops on the land.

Based on the results of a competitive bid process, contracts were offered to: Ronald Shiltgen for the lease of agricultural land in Big Marine Park Reserve. Shiltgen for the lease of agricultural land in Pine Point Regional Park. Herman Farms for the lease of agricultural land in Lake Elmo Park Reserve. Matthew Wohlman for the lease of agricultural land in St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park.

Seventy percent of the revenue received from the rental of agricultural land goes into the Parks Division Stewardship; the remaining 30% is used for “in-lieu of tax” payments.

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