USDA conservation programs announced for 2016
AMHERST — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) now has 2016 federal conservation program funds available for Massachusetts farmers and forest land owners. The agency is also starting a new application ranking process designed to reduce the time that applicants must wait to receive funding for their projects.
Farmers and forest land owners may apply for funding under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program at any time throughout the year by visiting their local NRCS field office. Beginning Dec. 18, funding decisions will be made monthly and will continue until funds are exhausted.
A total of $3.9 million in EQIP funds and $120,000 in AMA funds are available for Massachusetts projects in federal fiscal year 2016.
Both programs were authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and forest land owners to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water quality, water conservation, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, and improvements in soil health, wildlife habitat, plant and animal communities and energy conservation. AMA is designed to mitigate crop loss due to drought and offers irrigation practices.
A conservation plan must be completed before an application can be considered for funding, so farmers are encouraged to call or stop by their local NRCS field office as soon as possible. USDA Service Center locations are listed on-line at http://offices.usda.gov or in the phone book under Federal Government, U.S. Department of Agriculture. General program information is available on the NRCS Massachusetts website at www.ma.nrcs.usda.gov.
Program applicants can choose to compete in any of the various funding pools, including:
• Land use pools — Cropland, pasture and hayland, farmsteads. forestland, and wildlife habitat.
• Special initiative pools — Aerial cover crops, high tunnel systems, certified or transitioning organic production, on-farm energy conservation, New England Cottontail habitat, the Palmer River Watershed water quality initiative, and third party written Conservation Activity Plans.
• Historically underserved farmer pools — Indian tribes, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, limited resource farmers.
“If you operate a farm or manage forest land and want to improve your land, we can help,” said Christine Clarke, State Conservationist for NRCS in Massachusetts. “A planner will discuss with you your vision for your land, and will explain the conservation planning process and how to apply for financial assistance.”
“We’re hopeful that this new application ranking process will improve our customers’ experience working with NRCS and help us get more conservation on the ground,” said Clarke. “Nonetheless, ask us for assistance as soon as you’ve identified a natural resource concern on your land.”
EQIP can provide eligible applicants up to $450,000 over the six-year life of the Farm Bill; AMA has an annual payment limit of $50,000.
NRCS is a federal agency that works hand-in-hand with the people of Massachusetts to improve and protect soil, water and other natural resources. The agency has offices in USDA Service Centers in Greenfield, Hadley, Holden, Pittsfield, Westford, West Wareham and West Yarmouth, which work with local conservation districts and other partners to serve farmers and landowners in their area.
Regional service offices are:
• Greenfield — 413-772-0384, Ext. 3, serving Franklin County.
• Holden — 508-829-4477, Ext. 3, serving Worcester County.