Do you own or manage farmland or forestland in Massachusetts? Would you like help addressing natural resource concerns on your land? If so, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) encourages you to get in touch with your local NRCS office by January 17, 2014, to apply for federal conservation programs that can provide financial and technical assistance.
"Landowners and managers who have a conservation plan--which is the required first step to participating in federal conservation programs--and submit a program application by January 17 will be ready for this next round of federal funding through the farm bill when it's available," said Christine Clarke, Massachusetts state conservationist for NRCS.
Applications may be submitted at any time for NRCS programs that can help with soil erosion, water quality and conservation, integrated pest management, forest stand improvement, greenhouse efficiency, pasture and hay land improvement, invasive plant control or wildlife habitat improvement.
NRCS has offices in USDA Service Centers in Greenfield, Hadley, Holden, Hyannis, Pittsfield, Westford and West Wareham that work with local conservation districts and other partners to serve farmers and landowners throughout the commonwealth. USDA Service Center locations are listed online 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
"In the conservation planning process, NRCS conservationists will discuss with you your conservation objectives, help you identify natural resource concerns and suggest alternatives for treatment. They will also tell you about programs that may provide financial help to implement the conservation practices suggested in the plan," said Clarke.
Among the voluntary conservation programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill are:
· Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) - EQIP helps farmers and forest landowners address water quality, water conservation, invasive species control, soil quality, erosion control, nutrient and pest management, residue management, irrigation efficiency, energy conservation, air quality and other natural resource concerns. In Massachusetts, EQIP is also available to help greenhouse operations with water quality and conservation practices, aquaculture operations with best management practices, and certified organic growers and those transitioning to organic production with specific conservation practices. Massachusetts farmers can also receive help establishing seasonal high tunnels to extend the growing season in an environmentally friendly manner and developing forest management plans and agricultural energy management plans.
· Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) - WHIP provides assistance to landowners who want to improve fish and wildlife habitat or restore natural ecosystems on their land.
· Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) - AMA helps farmers adopt conservation practices that will reduce or mitigate risks to their agricultural enterprises. In Massachusetts, financial and technical assistance is available to producers for drought mitigation.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a federal agency that works hand in hand with the people of Massachusetts to improve and protect their soil, water and other natural resources. For decades, private landowners have voluntarily worked with NRCS specialists to prevent erosion, improve water quality and promote sustainable agriculture.