Conservation officials with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas have announced a plan to invest $38 million over 8 years in cost-share with producers to address water quality problems associated with farm run-off in the Illinois River Subbasin and Eucha-Spavinaw Lake watershed.
At an Oct. 28 press conference at the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission office in Little Rock, Ark., Dave White, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the program deals with the country’s future. “We have got to – got to,” White emphasized, “make sure that agriculture remains vibrant and productive, and that the men and women who work that land and make those decisions are able to stay on that land.” With the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization projecting farm production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050 to feed the expected population increase of 2.4 billion people, White said, “It’s going to be through projects like this one that we ensure the integrity and the sufficiency of agriculture in the United States of America.”
Participants installing eligible practices will be able to receive a 75 percent cost-share, with historically underserved producers getting 90 percent. Arkansas NRCS Conservationist Mike Sullivan said a number of practices that avoid, control or trap nutrients will be eligible. “We would look at a combination of practices,” he said. “Maybe you’ve got a grazing system where you do fencing and then watering facilities, and also some riparian practices to establish buffers, to help reduce runoff into the streams.”
The project will cover 1.32 million acres, 576,000 in Arkansas and the rest in Oklahoma; however, of the $3.72 million dollars allocated for fiscal 2011, $3 million will go to Arkansas producers.
Sullivan said they’re hoping the voluntary approach toward preventing nutrient runoff will head off the potential of regulation. “What we want to do is help get as much conservation on the ground as quickly as possible to help prevent those problems,” he said. “Maybe down the road, we could get to the point where producers that are applying all their conservation practices could even be in kind of a safe harbor from potential regulation.”
Funding could be a problem for conservation projects in the future. The EQIP budget is frequently raided by Congressional appropriators; the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization passed earlier this year by the Senate Agriculture Committee would have pulled about $2.2 billion over ten years out of EQIP, but the funding source was changed on the Senate floor. White, a career NRCS employee, was loaned to the Committee to help write the conservation titles of the last two Farm Bills, and he described that transaction as a “tempest in a teapot.”
A looming concern is funding for conservation in the 2012 Farm Bill; several programs, including the Grassland Reserve, are not included in the budget baseline. To be continued, their budgets would have to offset with money from other programs. “It’s going to be tough,” said White, “and it’s going to be a really challenging fiscal environment as Congress tries to grapple with how they’re going to re-fund the Farm Bill.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here