January 19, 2018

Assistance Available to Producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program

CSPAgricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Through CSP, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps private landowners build their business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of their entire operation. NRCS plans to enroll up to 10 million acres in CSP in 2018.

While applications for CSP are accepted year round, applications must be received by March 2, 2018 to be considered for this funding period.

Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat – all while maintaining active agriculture production on their land. CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

Some of these benefits of CSP include:

  • Improved cattle gains per acre;
  • Increased crop yields;
  • Decreased inputs;
  • Wildlife population improvements; and
  • Better resilience to weather extremes.

NRCS recently made several updates to the program to help producers better evaluate their conservation options and the benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications help producers see up front why they are or are not meeting stewardship thresholds, and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives. These tools also enable producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.

Producers interested in CSP are recommended to contact their local USDA service center or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

NRCS Announces EQIP NWQI Signup for FY 2018

EQIPAgricultural producers looking to solve natural resource problems on their farms will want to plan ahead and sign-up for United States Department of Agriculture funding.  Curtis Elke, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service Acting State Conservationist in Minnesota, announced that farmers interested in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) need to apply by January 26, 2018, for funding in 2018.

NWQI helps landowners improve water quality while strengthening agricultural operations.  This initiative focuses resources in watersheds most in need and where farmers, ranchers and forest landowners can use conservation practices to make a difference.

Through NWQI, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners receive one-on-one personalized advice and financial assistance through the EQIP to address a broad range of natural resource concerns, including water quality.

EQIP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. These contracts provide financial assistance to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and for opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air, and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.

“EQIP is just one tool for landowners who want to apply conservation practices on the ground,” said Elke.  “By working with the local NRCS offices, you can apply for NRCS programs which work best for your land.”

Applications for EQIP are accepted on a continuous basis, however, NRCS establishes application acceptance or submission deadline dates for evaluation and ranking of eligible applications.  Contracts will be awarded to producers’ with the highest rankings until funds are exhausted.

To see if a watershed is eligible under the NWQI, see a list of watersheds.

To learn more about EQIP, contact your local NRCS field office or visit the MN NRCS website.

American Farm Bureau Delegates Want Clarity on Swampbuster Rules

Delegates for the American Farm Bureau Federation on Tuesday voted for an overhaul of the highly erodible land and wetland conservation rules.  The language to address the “sodbuster” and “swampbuster” rules came from North Dakota and South Dakota delegates.

Rusty visits with SD Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal near Volga, South Dakota.

During a closing press conference for the AFBF annual convention in Nashville, Scott VanderWal, president of South Dakota Farm Bureau and national vice president for AFBF, said the rules are a major concern in the Northern Plains. 

“That’s a big issue to the upper Midwest,  Northeast South Dakota, North Dakota, areas of the prairie pothole region,” VanderWal said. “Admittedly, swampbuster is not being regulated the way congress intended it to we feel. This is a policy that our members have put in place to bring us to the table with congress, with policy-makers, with wildlife groups to try to get closer to the way swampbuster was intended to work. The rest of that policy kind of gives us the leverage to comet to the table with the other groups to negotiate that.”

Although it may be a regional issue, VanderWal said the national organization was compelled to take a stance on the matter.

“I think we more clearly spelled out the problems we had with the swampbusters,”he continued, “And in the course of a year’s time, people do more talking, helping others in the organization understand what the problems are. You know, this is a general farm organization and we all help each other out. So the cotton guys need some help, the dairy guys need some help, and these issues with wetland determinations and swampbuster regulations are just as big for the livelihoods of people of South Dakota and North Dakota as these other issues are for the farmers in other states.”

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said there needs to be clarity for farmers.  He has worked closely with the Farm Bureau chapters in North Dakota and South Dakota to get USDA’s attention on the issue.

“Our policy, unless somebody tells me differently, our policy still supports conservation compliance,” Duvall stated. “Some of you probably don’t know but I helped Scott and the North Dakota president try to bring some attention to the problem there because the enforcement in those areas is not consistent across the board. It may be different from one region to the other.”

          “We have talked to the secretary about bringing consistency there and clarity to what the rules and regulations really are,” Duvall continued. “Without any other new legislation, to try to bring some changes to the rules that we play by, bring it more to what the law is requiring us to do, so that our farmers have clear views of what is expected of them. That’s what it’s got to do with and those things that are spelled out in the new policy give us some areas to work toward. And, of course, if we don’t make some progress, we may have that conversation again next year, about whether or not we do stay with that. But, our policy is still that we support conservation compliance.”