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Flower project looks to benefit nature, Pepin

Lucky Dog Farm is located right outside of town in Pepin, Wis. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Lucky Dog Farm is located right alongside County Road CC, within a mile of downtown Pepin. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Tom Brockman's crops will be replaced with flowers next year. The CRP program is an alternative to farming that can be beneficial for the environment. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

PEPIN, Wis. — Opportunities can come out of the most unlikely of places. In Pepin, it looks to be out with the crops and in with the flowers.

Tom Brockman of Afton, Minn., is in converting his Lucky Dog Farm from growing crops into planting about 135 acres of flowers.

The Conservation Reserve Program or CRP is working with Brockman to convert his 150-acre Pepin farm into a place to grow perennial flowers.

Brockman came into the land at Lucky Dog Farm in a unique way. He bought the abandoned land from a friend in an effort to turn it into a golf course, but then he saw the tumbling market for courses and passed on the project. He decided to grow crops instead, even though the soil is very sandy and he knew it wouldn't be the best ground.

Brockman had no experience farming, but Robert Church of Pepin was close by and knew how to husband the land properly. Brockman said he was especially thankful that Church had come in and done great work with the project.

"When you till it up, there's a lot of dust. There were large trees in the field and we used a bulldozer to clear the land. Everybody laughed because it was so sandy. There are nutrients in the soil, so if it rains it's a fairly decent crop," Brockman said.

Brockman lives in Lakeland Shores and operates Brockman Trucking and Trailer for his day job. With Brockman describing himself as getting older and having a lot of projects, he had looked to rent out his land.

"People won't rent sand land and, if they do, it's very cheap. With the prices for fertilizer, people would much rather go to black ground," Brockman said.

With difficult land and a desire to move in a different direction, Brockman found a great opportunity through the CRP and the Durand Farm Bureau.

The pollinator program also will benefit the monarch butterfly population.

"I can almost make as much as I do on the crops as I would for being paid to grow the flowers. It should be easier and would be great for the monarch butterfly," Brockman said.

The deal can allow Brockman to grow a large number of flowers in his field, while also leaving a small section he's able to mess around with or still grow what he pleases.

The program requires that the land was farmed for about five years between 2008 and 2014, with Lucky Dog Farm barely meeting the required time.

CRP programs are effective ways for the government to subsidize farmers, Brockman said. He described how some people farm because there are huge tax breaks involved, even if the crops don't produce well. Since the government insures the crops, programs like the pollinator one Brockman is participating in began to sprout up.

"If they're going to insure the crops, I think they realized they might as well get something out of the insurance," Brockman said.

The project focuses on being good for the habitat. The flowers will be planted in the fall and freeze and unfreeze in the winter months to create a good crop in the spring. Brockman is expected to mow down the weeds for the first few years to allow the flowers to gain greater footholds each the spring.

Brockman realizes the project could be a big risk, but trusts that the government is giving him the correct information and resources to complete the project.

"I think they wouldn't make the rules if it wasn't manageable. The prices are split 50-50 for the program on seeds, preparation of soil and planting," Brockman said.

The amount of money the government will pay Brockman is determined by the acreage and type of soil. His sandy soil will fetch a lower price than premium black soil, but he figures he should still be able to grow the amount of flowers necessary.

"The initial fee can be substantial and you sign up for 10 years. You can't sell the land but you have to keep it. But the government wants the farms to succeed and they have set up a lot of funding for it," Brockman said.

A huge lawn mower is necessary to take down all the weeds in the project, but the flowers can't be touched from May 15 to Aug. 15. After that Brockman will be able to buzz down the weeds for a few days to ensure the health of the flowers.

Brockman is trying to remain confident that the flowers will take over and he will be able to clear the weeds effectively. Brockman has a strong love for the town of Pepin, and hopes Lucky Dog Farm, which is only a mile out of town, can continue to be passed down and be a positive aspect for the town and environment.