Conservation program opportunities available for grazing operations

The 2008 farm bill provides many opportunities for grazing operations interested in improving their grassland and natural resources.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has both the traditional program options as well as new initiatives mandated in the 2008 farm bill.

EQIP

One opportunity for farmers interested in assistance with developing or improving their grazing management systems is the traditional EQIP program.

The options through traditional EQIP include the installation of internal paddock fence, perimeter fence, water systems, heavy use feeding areas, waste storage facilities and other related practices necessary for improved grazing management systems.

The deadline for the regular EQIP sign up for consideration in this round of funding is May 29.

Organic EQIP

A second EQIP option is available for producers interested in organic production or transition to organic production.

The deadline for submitting applications for funding through the Organic EQIP in Ohio has been extended until June 12. Applications submitted after that date will be held for the 2010 funding cycle.

This may be particularly attractive to those producers interested in marketing grass fed beef.

The special Organic EQIP initiative was announced by NRCS earlier this month. Through Organic EQIP, Ohio organic farmers or those Ohio farmers transitioning to organic production, have nearly $1 million available to address their unique natural resource concerns.

An individual producer can receive up to $20,000 per year or $80,000 over six years.

Certified organic producers will need an organic system plan (OSP) when applying for Organic EQIP. Producers transitioning to organic production must submit a letter stating their intent to become certified.

“Farmers with an OSP have typically accomplished much of the work needed to develop an NRCS conservation plan,” said Terry Cosby, state conservationist. “Participating in the Organic EQIP will result in a complete conservation system.”

Core practices

Six core conservation practices have been identified as practices likely needed in an organic production system. These six practices include conservation crop rotation, cover crops, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing and forage harvest management.

A higher payment will be offered for these practices under Organic EQIP.

GRP

Another program that may be of interest to grazing operations is the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).

This program was reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill, is voluntary and provides opportunities for agricultural operators to protect grazing uses and other related conservation values by restoring and conserving eligible grasslands and certain other lands through rental contracts and easements.

Land that is privately owned is eligible for GRP. The land must be grassland for which the predominant use is grazing.

Land that has been historically dominated by grassland and provides habitat for animal or plant populations of significant ecological value or land that contains historical or archeological resources is eligible.

Publicly owned land is not eligible. Land already under protection from conversion to non-grazing uses is also not eligible.

Land previously enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is eligible for GRP. The applicant must be the landowner if the permanent easement option is desired.

If the rental contract is desired, the applicant must have control of the eligible acres offered.

In addition, the participant must agree to provide information to USDA, which is necessary to determine eligibility for program benefits. The participant must also meet the adjusted gross income and conservation compliance requirements.

Enrollment options

The enrollment options for GRP include:

– Permanent easements — USDA makes a payment based on the fair market value of the property less the grazing value.

– Rental contracts — 10, 15 or 20-year in duration, USDA pays 75 percent of the grazing value in annual payments for the length of the agreement.

The GRP sign-up period for 2009 applications is June 1-26. Visit your local NRCS office for more information about EQIP, GRP and other conservation programs or visit www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov.

About the Author

The author is an area grassland conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, located in the Licking County field office in Newark, Ohio; 740-670-5236. More Stories by Patty Dyer

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