Working with local, state and federal agencies can help producers improve their farm
There is an almost endless array of farm programs, many of which are offered through the USDA and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), for a producer to apply for.
With options ranging from crop insurance to high tunnel initiatives to grazing schools to conservation and energy initiatives, the process of selecting a program can be a little overwhelming. A producer will want to make sure their time and energy are well invested in a program that will make a difference for them, and many folks ask the question ‘what can these programs actually DO for me?’
Fortunately, the answers are pretty beneficial. Farm programs can:
Extend the Growing Season: Many produce farmers and small homesteaders apply for the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative.
This initiative is geared towards helping growers who raise produce for commercial or educational purposes extend their growing season in an environmentally friendly manner.
“There is more environmental benefit by allowing them to grow longer,” USDA/NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations Curt McDaniel said.
He explained better soil health, increased organic matter, better nutrient cycling, and taking advantage of the sunlight are all benefits of using a high tunnel. Curtis Millsap, a grower from Springfield, Mo., who received a High Tunnel grant from the NRCS and produces vegetables year-round with nothing but solar heat.
“I think that is a great thing for the environment,” he said.
Put Up Fence: Building fence for rotational grazing can be an expensive undertaking, but farm programs can help. Michael and Amy Billings of Buffalo Lodge worked with their local NRCS team to design and partially fund a rotational grazing system for their herd of bison.
Michael and Amy first began working with NRCS in 2011, when they had a herd of 25 bison and 80 acres. To more effectively utilize the forage on their farm, Amy and Michael acquired another 105 acres, and they utilized NRCS and local soil and water conservation district assistance to install cross-fencing, a livestock water-distribution system, tire tanks and pasture seeding, including conversion of some acres to native warm-season forages. They can now support up to 100 bison that rotate through 17 paddocks on 185 acres.
Build Barns: Another Ozarks producer, Polk County, Mo., dairy farmer Nelson Hostetler, put up a new dairy shed and animal waste system with design and financial assistance from the USDA NRCS. He originally contacted the NRCS about a manure lagoon, but his local service center employees helped him expand on that idea. With his new set up, his cows are producing 20 pounds more milk per head, per day.
Pollinate: David Panahi, of Fair Grove, Mo., utilized the assistance from NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to provide plenty of resources for his beehives. According to the NRCS, Panahi’s pollinators are surrounded by fields of wildflowers, shrubs, red maples and fruit trees including pears, peaches, apples and even heat-loving figs.
The native plants, Witchazel, Aromatic Asters and Goldenrod, were established with assistance from NRCS and designed to have continuous bloom periods throughout the growing season that enhance honey production and pollination activity.
Reduce Erosion: Gary Harral, a farmer in Benton County, Ark., reached out to his USDA NCRS branch to rectify losing a foot of pasture a year along a 2,400-foot section of the Anderson Branch of the Little Osage Creek to erosion. His program of choice was the Illinois River Sub-Basin and Eucha-Spavinaw Lake Watershed Initiative Project (IRWI) – a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers for addressing water quality concerns in Northwestern Arkansas and Northeastern Oklahoma.
“Gary’s project consisted of bank shaping and protection by pulling the creek bank back on a 2:1 slope, installing a rip-rap toe in the streambed and placing geotextile and rock rip-rap on the shaped banks up to the normal bank,” Josh Fortenberry, NRCS soil conservationist at the Bentonville Field Service Center, explained.
Today, erosion on Gary’s farm is drastically reduced.
These are just a handful of success stories from folks who have participated in farm programs. Stopping in at the local USDA/NRCS Service Center, visiting www.usda.gov and following state specific USDA and NRCS social media pages can help producers get inspired and begin implementing some of these programs on their own land.