Popular programs can improve soil, air and water health

Financial assistance for agricultural producers is available through implementing conservation techniques with the Natural Resource Conservation Services.

The NRCS provides programs designed to help reduce soil erosion, and increase water quality and wildlife habitat. The NRCS is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture. 

“The goal is to help landowners improve natural resources on their farms or land that is going to benefit natural resources by preserving them and improving them to ultimately produce better products,” said Corey Farmer, assistant state conservationist for Northwest Arkansas field operations with USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Services.

The NRCS typically works with private agricultural landowners to improve their conservation techniques and increase production. It is also continuing to work with more urban gardens and smaller farms. Agricultural producers can become involved in these programs by applying on the NRCS state website or contacting their local NRCS department.  These programs are designed and authorized every four to five years through the Farm Bill. Each state is allotted money to spend in various conservation areas. There are environmental, conservation, regional, and watershed programs. The two most common programs Arkansas and Missouri NRCS implement are the Environment Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. 

The EQIP is the flagship program that is designed to help producers implement new conservation techniques on their land. The goal is to improve the quality of soil, air or water. The NRCS provides financial assistance for the producer to do these practices. 

“EQIP’s focus is to solve issues with resource concerns, like soil erosion. It helps solve bigger problems and needs more financial assistance,” said Missouri NRCS Program Liaison Paul McDonald.

The CSP is an incentive program to continue conservation practices producers are already implementing. The CSP enhances what is already happening at a higher-level facility. 

“Sometimes {increased production} is a benefit, but the overarching goal is to improve or maintain natural resources, which in return is generally going to enhance production.”

—Corey Farmer,
Assistant State Conservationist,
Northwest Arkansas field operations

“It is generally an incentive or payment for things they are already doing on their farm and financial assistance for them to implement practices on their farm,” said Farmer. 

Typically, these programs look like starting cover crops, grazing rotation or water quality treatments. Different programs have different financial returns. 

“Sometimes practices might be good for the environment but not high financial return,” McDonald said. 

The funding is provided through specific programs designed to meet the individual needs of every producer. Producers or landowners can apply through their state website or by contacting their local NRCS office to begin the application process. After a series of application questions, NRCS will partner with the producer to evaluate the land or property to create a plan and implement a program. Each program is voluntary but has an incentive or financial assistance. 

“Sometimes [increased production] is a benefit, but the overarching goal is to improve or maintain natural resources, which in return is generally going to enhance production,” said Farmer.

Practices like cover crops help with erosion and can potentially create better soil, but a producer may not see a large increase in financial return. However, with improved grazing systems, a producer may be able to increase the number of animals or decrease the cost of other feed and will see a larger financial return after implementing these practices. 

Any producer can apply for funding. Each applicant is evaluated and given a contract with steps and agreements for the program. However, according to Farmer and McDonald, it is a competitive program because the “demands outweigh the available funds.”

 The evaluation will be scored and placed on a list depending on factors like how high risk the problems might be. The applications open in November and go through a series of tests to be ranked according to the situation’s needs. The funds will then be distributed in late winter.  If an applicant does not receive funding, they can reapply the next year. According to McDonald, the NRCS provides suggestions to improve the application for the next year, but it is all voluntary conservation. 

Farmer noted frequently producers are unaware of their need for conservation practices. And unaware of these programs that can benefit their production. Reaching out to local conservationists and evaluating land will be opportunities for increased production and financial return.


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