Farming Magazine - June, 2012

COLUMNS

New England Farmers Union: Farming as conservation

By Annette Higby

Roger and Lori Noonan talk about conservation at the breakfast table. They understand that their stewardship of 140 acres in New Hampshire means they must leave it in better condition than they found it. They understand that without caring for the soil, nothing will grow on the thin Granite State soils. They also know that clean water is essential to a healthy environment and farm.

The Noonans operate Middle Branch Farm in New Boston, N.H. Good conservation practices are at the core of their farming philosophy. These practices build healthy soil and minimize erosion and nutrient pollution runoff. If you ask Roger, he'll tell you that they also make good financial sense. On good soil with clean water, Roger manages a 450-member CSA (community supported agriculture). He offers customers local and organic produce, meat and maple syrup over a 16-week season. Home base is a conserved farm with 40 acres in vegetables and 100 acres of pasture and hay land. Along with an impressive list of vegetables, he raises beef, pork, lamb and pastured poultry. He also sells wholesale to independent grocers and the Concord Food Co-op.

Like lots of conservation-minded farmers, Noonan has kept in touch with people at the New Hampshire office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). They have helped him apply for grants through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Federal Farmland Protection Program. With these funds, the couple has placed conservation easements on their land, and Noonan has instituted a conservation plan for the farm and forestland, as well as a rotational grazing plan. He recently applied to the Organic Initiative, a special initiative within EQIP that offers support to organic farmers and those transitioning to organic production.

The current farm bill expires in September of 2012, and Congress is now in the process of writing a new five-year farm bill. We need to pay close attention. "The Conservation Title programs protect our soil and water," Noonan says. "To me, they are a key part of the farm bill. Good soil and water are fundamental to healthy food. These programs have the broadest support among New England members of Congress, and they bring the highest levels of federal farm program dollars to our region. And, they are about to be cut from the farm bill."

The New England Farmers Union has made effective and well-funded conservation programs one of our priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill. We support working lands conservation programs that help farmers improve soil and water quality, reduce energy consumption and the use of pesticides. Our goals for the Conservation Title in this farm bill include the following:

  • Maintain the Conservation Stewardship Program as a program that rewards the environmental benefits of sustainable and organic agriculture and is appropriate to our region and scale of farming.
  • Maintain a regional equity provision that establishes a minimum allocation to each state for conservation program spending. The regional equity provision has been essential in redirecting resources to the historically underfunded Northeast.
  • Maintain mandatory funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and conservation technical assistance with increased emphasis on management intensive grazing and organic transition and to maintain funding for the organic initiative.
  • Maintain mandatory funding for the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
  • Provide adequate funding for Conservation Technical Assistance.

Conservation programs are under siege in the U.S. Congress. The programs most beneficial to New England have taken significant funding cuts in the last several rounds of agricultural appropriations bills. The trend is ominous. Congress sees these programs as expendable. Protecting these programs will require the active civic engagement of a lot of conservation-minded farmers and friends of farmers.

Noonan is a busy farmer and a busy advocate. He serves on the New England Farmers Union board of directors and is the chair of its policy committee. He is a supervisor for his local conservation district and serves on the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts Policy Committee. He serves on the Northeast Organic Farm Association/New Hampshire Policy Committee, the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and he is the agriculture representative on the New Hampshire Rivers Management Advisory Committee. In addition, he makes time to travel to Washington, D.C., to talk with members of Congress about these issues.

Join with Noonan in this effort. Members of Congress respond to calls and visits from constituents. As a part of the National Farmers Union, the NEFU has a voice at the national table. Take advantage of this new partnership; join NEFU. Call your senators and representative and let them know how important these programs are to your farm and your bottom line. You can find phone numbers by going to . Stay engaged and informed by signing up for NEFU action alerts and our e-newsletter.

Annette Higby, policy director for the New England Farmers Union, is collecting names of organizations and individuals who will support these two bills. Contact her at www.NewEnglandFarmersUnion.org.