Have you got a great project idea for your farm and need some funding help? USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers cost-share programs designed to improve natural resource quality while enhancing agricultural production in the United States. These funds can assist with forestry, agriculture, aquaculture, livestock and greenhouse operations.
The RI Conservation Districts and NRCS jointly presented statewide workshops in early December, 2011. About 25 guests at the Portsmouth Free Public Library learned about the roles of RI Conservation Districts and the many NRCS funding programs available. Eastern RI Conservation District board members and greenhouse growers, Skip Paul of Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton and Ron Mucci of Tiverton, shared their experience constructing and using High Tunnels.
Natural Resources Conservation Service:
NRCS mission is to “Help People Help the Land,” and they offer both science-based technical and financial assistance customized for farmers’ and growers’ needs. Farm resources and areas of concerns are reviewed and Conservation Plans can be established to address concerns and can include design and engineering assistance.
Funding is available through a variety of conservation programs to help farmers and growers implement and install conservation practices, There are three Conservation Cost-Share Programs: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA). There are three Conservation Easement Programs: Farm & Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) and Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). NRCS also offers a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP):
This voluntary conservation program provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and growers for addressing resource concerns related to soil, water, air, plants, animals and other related natural resources on their land. Eligible lands include cropland, rangeland, pastureland, private non-industrial forestland and other farm or ranch lands; eligible farmers are those engaged in livestock or agricultural production and owners of non-industrial private forestland.
Sample EQIP Projects include Agricultural Water Management and Irrigation Systems, Pasture Management, Energy Efficiency Improvement like Solar-powered water pumps, Pest Management and Hedgerows to reduce spray drift, Aquaculture such as Oyster operations, Manure Management Systems, Invasive Species Control, Forest Management and Erosion Control via contour planting.
Season extender or year-round High Tunnels are routinely funded through NRCS EQIP grants. The High Tunnels are polyethylene covered structures containing multiple crop rows grown in the natural soil profile and may contain raised beds. Growers must select a high tunnel from the RI Approved Product List or have your selected high tunnel approved by NRCS prior to purchase.
To participate in EQIP you need to own or rent the land for the term of the proposed contract and have financial and/or legal interest in the farming operation on the land. Your average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) must be less than $1 million dollars and you must be in good standing with any other USDA contracts. NRCS and your local Conservation District can help landowners verify eligibility.
Conservation Activity Plans (CAPs):
CAPs are EQIP-funded Management Plans developed by NRCS certified Technical Service Providers (TSPs). CAPs offered through EQIP include: Forestry, Fish and Wildlife Management, Grazing, Agricultural Energy Management, Irrigation and Water Management, Transition to Organic, Comprehensive Nutrient Management, Pollinator, Integrated Pest Management and Air Quality Management. One CAP can be active per field at a time. Once completed, another application can be submitted for another resource of concern. Caps can be awarded year-round when funding is available.
Wildlife Habitat Incentive Programs (WHIP)
This voluntary program helps develop or improve habitat for fish and wildlife of National, State, Tribal and local significance. WHIP practices include: Fish Passages, Pollinator Habitat, Restoration and Management of Declining Habitats, Forest Stand Improvement, Stream Habitat Improvement and Wetland Restoration.
Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA)
AMA addresses threats to a farmer’s long term viability, such as drought-related crop losses. Financial assistance helps farmers defray the costs of installing new irrigation systems in previously un-irrigated areas and converting sprinkler systems to conservation irrigation systems. AMA’s practice list varies and is updated each year.
Farm & Ranch Protection Program (FRPP):
This Conservation Easement Program provides matching funds to State, Tribal or local governments and non-governmental organizations, with existing farm and ranch lands protection programs, to help purchase conservation easements. Eligible lands include forests and lands that contribute to the economic viability of a farm or buffers adjacent development.
Wetland Reserve Program (WRP):
This Conservation Easement Program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring eligible land from agriculture. This can be accomplished with a permanent Easement where the USDA pays 100 percent of the easement value and up to 100 percent of the restoration costs. Another option is a 30-Year Easement where the USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP):
This Conservation Easement Program allows landowners to protect grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland including rangeland, pastureland, shrubland and certain other lands. This can be accomplished with 10, 15 or 20 year Rental Contracts where the USDA provides annual payments up to 75 percent of the grazing value established by the Farm Service Agency up to $50,000 per year per person or legal entity. Permanent Easements are also available and can pay up to fair market value, less the grazing value of the land encumbered by the easement.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP):
This voluntary conservation program encourages producers to comprehensively address resource concerns with additional conservation practices to improve, maintain and manage existing conservation activities. The CSP is available on Tribal and private agricultural lands and non-industrial private forest land. CSP participants receive an annual land use payment for operation-level environmental benefits they produce; the higher the operational performance, the higher their payment.
If you are interested in more information on these or other NRCS programs, view their website or contact NRCS or your local Conservation District for assistance in developing a Conservation Plan. They will schedule a site visit and conduct a resource inventory and help you develop a Conservation Plan that includes your goals and objectives.
Once your Conservation Plan is completed you may be eligible for financial assistance to implement one or several conservation practices. Your planner will help you determine which conservation practices may be eligible for financial assistance and help you prepare a Conservation Program Application (CPA-1200). NRCS staff can help you complete your eligibility paperwork. Application will be ranked against all other applications turned in during that period and the highest ranking score projects will be funded until the funding runs out.
Sources of More Information:
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service
- RI Eastern District – Bristol and Newport Counties – Melissa Hayden, District Conservationist, USDA-NRCS, 60 Quaker Lane, Suite 46, Warwick, RI 02886, phone (401) 822-8847
- RI Northern District – Providence County – Justin Tuthill, District Conservationist, USDA-NRCS, 60 Quaker Lane, Suite 46, Warwick, RI 02886, phone (401) 822-8839
- RI Southern District – Kent and Washington Counties – John Richard, District Conservationist, USDA-NRCS, 60 Quaker Lane, Suite 46, Warwick, RI 02886, phone (401) 822-8838
RI Conservation District Offices:
- Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District – Jessica Blackledge, Project Manager, Eastern RI Conservation District, 2490 Main Road, Tiverton, RI 02878, phone (401) 816-5667
- Northern RI Conservation District – Gina DeMarco, District Manager/Education & Outreach Coordinator, 2283 Hartford Avenue, Johnston, RI 02919, phone (401) 934-0840
- Southern RI Conservation District – Douglas McGovern, Executive Director, at PO Box 1636, Kingston, RI 02881, phone (401) 934-0841
Wishing Stone Farm – Skip Paul, 25 Shaw Road, Little Compton, RI 02837, phone (401) 635-4274
A similar story ran in the January 23, 2012 New England edition of “Country Folks.”