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.

USDA Seeks Applications for $10 Million in Conservation Innovation Grants

USDA is offering grants for innovative ideas for conservation strategies and technologies. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS​) plans to invest $10 million in the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, funding innovative conservation projects in three focus areas: grazing lands, organic systems and soil health. Grant proposals are due Feb. 26, 2018.

“Conservation Innovation Grants play a critical role in developing and implementing new methods to help our customers across the country and here in Minnesota conserve natural resources, strengthen their local communities, and improve their bottom lines,” said Curtis Elke, NRCS (Acting) state conservationist in Minnesota. “Today’s announcement supports our efforts to help producers build economically-strong and resilient farms and ranches by providing producers tools to utilize across their working farmlands.”

The NRCS uses CIG to work with partners to accelerate transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches that address some of the nation’s most pressing natural resource concerns. This year, NRCS is focusing funding in these areas:

  • Grazing Lands: Helping livestock producers make grazing management decisions, encouraging prescribed burning as a grazing management practice, and improving access to conservation planning tools used for developing grazing management plans.
  • Organic Agriculture Systems: Helping organic producers develop innovative cropping and tillage systems, edge-of-field monitoring, crop rotations, and intercropping systems.
  • Soil Health: Supporting both cropping and grazing systems, in a variety of climatic zones, that incorporate soil health management systems for addressing specific resource concerns like nutrients and availability. Evaluating multiple soil health assessment methods to assist in the development of new soil health indicators and thresholds.

 “Every sector of American agriculture has its unique conservation challenges,” said Elke. “CIG enables USDA to help support new, innovative tools and techniques which have helped U.S. agriculture become the powerhouse we see today, leading the world in both production efficiency and conservation delivery. We encourage groups and individuals in Minnesota to take advantage of this grant opportunity.”

Potential applicants should review the announcement of program funding available at www.grants.gov  , which includes application materials and submission procedures. All U.S.-based entities and individuals are invited to apply, with the sole exception of Federal agencies. Up to 20 percent of CIG funds will be set aside for proposals from historically underserved producers, veteran farmers or ranchers or groups serving these customers.

NRCS is hosting a webinar for potential CIG applicants on Jan. 11, 2018, at 4 p.m. Eastern. Information on how to join the webinar can be found on the NRCS CIG webpage.

CIG is authorized and funded under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Projects can last up to three years. The maximum award amount for any project this year is $2 million.

Since 2004, NRCS has invested nearly $286.7 million in more than 700 projects focused on providing farmers and ranchers new techniques, data and decision-making tools for improving natural resources conservation on their land.