State Conservationist Shares Important Farm Bill Information and Dates for Hoosier Farmers
Indianapolis, IN, April 4, 2014—We have a new Farm Bill and Jane Hardisty, State Conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wants farmers to know important information about the Conservation Title and what to expect here in Indiana over the next few months.
The 2014 Agricultural Act was signed by the president on February 7th and since that time USDA agencies have been busy writing rules and developing guidance. Information is now beginning to be released to states.
Nationally, the new bill provides $3.4 billion for conservation programs this fiscal year – $18.7 billion in conservation over the next five years.
According to Hardisty the new bill marks the first time in history that conservation is at the centerpiece. “This bill is a strong investment in the nation’s agriculture and conservation effort, and here in Indiana NRCS and our conservation partners are in a great position to assist farmers who want to improve and sustain their land.”
Hardisty explains that farmers will find many positive changes in the bill, including consolidation of several programs under the categories of financial assistance, easements, and partnerships. “Consolidation of programs gives NRCS an opportunity to streamline our administrative processes and reduce burden on the public and our field staff,” she said.
For Indiana farmers, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a key program to improve soil health and address soil erosion, air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and other resource concerns on cropland, forestland, pastureland, and livestock areas. The former Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is now rolled into EQIP and does not lose its intent to provide private landowners with opportunities to address wildlife habitat resource concerns.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is an excellent opportunity for Hoosiers to improve land stewardship on their farm. The program encourages participants to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner by improving, maintaining and managing existing conservation activities and undertaking additional conservation activities. Nationally, CSP is reauthorized to enroll 10 million acres annually. Indiana currently has 311,261 acres enrolled in CSP.
Landowners who have a long-term interest in protecting their land may participate in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) which provides assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands. ACEP consolidates the former easement programs (Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program), with the exception of Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP). ACEP is divided into two categories, Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Enhancements (WRE).
ALE protects the agricultural use and conservation values of farmland. NRCS provides financial assistance to eligible partners for purchasing easements and those partners will work directly with farmers to permanently protect their working agricultural land. Partners may also protect grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland, including pastureland.
Through WRE, NRCS will continue to help farmers and other landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands. WRE incorporates the purposes of the former Wetland Reserve Program (WRP).
The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) consolidates existing programs into one that will support projects that improve soil health, water quality, water quantity, air quality, and/or wildlife habitat in a specific area or region. Here in Indiana those programs include: Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), and Great Lakes Basin Program. With this new focus on regional conservation priorities NRCS will have the opportunity to work with partners to obtain additional technical assistance and target resources to areas of greatest environmental concern.
The Farm Bill re-links conservation compliance provisions to crop insurance premium subsidies. In addition to identifying crop insurance as a covered program, the Farm Bill defines special timelines and mitigation authority. NRCS also has a new opportunity to assist farmers with wetland conservation compliance issues on their farms by establishing mitigation banking opportunities for program participants.
Other changes include opportunities and incentives for beginning farmers, along with other historically underserved farmers which now includes military veterans and “no-year” funding, which provides the agency the opportunity to focus more directly on the conservation planning process and more deliberate obligation of funding
Hardisty says it is important for Hoosier farmers to be aware of key dates that are coming up. She also stresses that it is important to work with the local district conservationist and have a conservation plan in place before applying for any Farm Bill program.
Because the signing of the new farm bill occurred in February, Indiana’s previous announcement of the EQIP special initiatives signup deadline (February 21st) and ranking process was delayed. Below are key dates for rollout. (Please note, these dates are projected and subject to change.)
• EQIP– Applications submitted by May 16, 2014 will be evaluated to be considered for funding in fiscal year 2014. Applications received after that date will be accepted and evaluated for future rounds of funding.
• CSP – Applicants can expect to be notified of funding decisions by early June.
• CSP -- Contracts for 2010-01 and 2010-02 sign-ups will have an opportunity to re-enroll for an additional five years, under certain conditions and specified criteria. NRCS will begin implementing this option by September 30th.
• ACEP – Applications for agricultural land easements will begin to be accepted by April 30, with applicants notified of funding/enrollment decisions by July 31, and contracts/agreements in August. Wetland Reserve Easement applications are currently being accepted. Funding decisions are also expected by July 31.
• RCPP – A request for proposals will be issued in May, with proposal selection and agreements with partners is expected by September 30th.
For more information on conservation programs in the Farm Bill, visit your local district conservationist http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/contact/local/ or the Indiana NRCS website: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/programs/farmbill/.
Jane Hardisty, State Conservationist, 317-295-5801, firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger Kult, Acting Assistant State Conservationist, Programs, 317-295-5820, email@example.com
Rebecca Fletcher, State Public Affairs Specialist, 317-295-5825, firstname.lastname@example.org