USDA says deadline looms for farmers to apply for conservation funding
Submitted by Howard Owens on October 26, 2012 - 2:56pm
Genesee County farmers and private landowners were matched $1.5 million dollars in federal assistance this past fiscal year to install conservation practices on their farms, fields and forests.
Heath Eisele, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service said, “We are currently accepting applications for fiscal year 2013. To be considered for funding, interested applicants should submit their applications to the Batavia Field Office no later than Nov. 16.
Although the fate of the 2012 Farm Bill is undecided at this time, several programs remain intact to help landowners address a variety of resource concerns on their working lands. The NRCS programs for which applications are being accepted, include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Agricultural Management Assistance Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.
According to the most recent Agricultural Census, Genesee County is comprised of approximately 184,000 acres of cropland. According to Eisele, this is where farmers in particular can have the biggest impact on improving soil, water and air quality.
“Many farmers have traded in their moldboard plow for equipment that reduces tillage and improves overall soil health. However, many farmers are not aware that financial assistance is available to help them transition to a less intensive cropping system or take their conservation efforts to the next level,” Eisele said.
One grain farmer who has championed the use of innovative farming techniques and who has utilized NRCS conservation programs is Donn Branton, of Stafford. Precision nutrient application, tissue testing, reduced tillage and cover crop cocktails are just a few of the ways that Branton is able to “build” soils and sustainably increase crop production.
NRCS currently offers incentive payments to farmers willing to plant a cover crop on fields where cover crops were not previously planted. In 2012 the incentive rate was $73 per acre for grass cover crops planted conventionally and $75 per acre for organic. Planting a cover crop mixture earned farmers $90 per acre. Incentive rates may change slightly for 2013.
“Cover crop is really the first step toward improving soil quality. In order to maximize the benefits, it is important that fields are not exposed to tillage after planting or for termination. Tillage can destroy soil structure, provide a seed bed for weeds and reduce residue on top of the ground,” Eisele said.
Farmers who adopt no-till or reduced tillage methods, such as strip-till or ridge-till, can receive up to an additional $43 per acre to limit the amount of disturbance to the soil.
“I have found that leaving residue on the surface so it can degrade naturally promotes better soil as opposed to tilling it in,” Branton said.
Farmers not able to plant cover crop or utilize residue management can receive an annual payment of $10 per acre for three years by incorporating a small grain into their cropping rotation. The small grain will provide cover throughout the winter months and can be harvested for silage or grain. Hay may also be considered if not previously grown in rotation on the farm.
Other cropland practices that are eligible for financial assistance through EQIP include: grassed waterways, nutrient management, diversions, and riparian herbaceous buffers.
EQIP also offers technical and financial assistance to farmers that have resource concerns around the farmstead. Roof runoff management, silage leachate control, milkhouse waste containment, and waste storage are some of the practices that can be implemented through the program. Other practices such as solid-liquid separation facilities, waste storage covers, composting facilities and anaerobic digesters have also been popular in the county.
To learn more about NRCS New York Conservation Programs, visit their Web site at www.ny.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/. To apply, interested landowners can call 585-343-2362 and request an application or visit the Batavia Field Office at 29 Liberty St., Suite 3, Batavia.