By Loretta Sorensen
Improve your chance of obtaining federal funding
How much money will the new farm bill assign to conservation funding and how difficult will it be for farmers to obtain funding assistance with upcoming conservation projects? Bruce Knight, a principal with Strategic Conservation Solutions in Washington, D.C., doesn’t know for sure, but says farmers can take steps to improve their chance of landing conservation assistance.
"These are not your grandfather’s conservation programs," Knight says. "EQIP [Environmental Quality Incentives Program] alone provides between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion in funds every year for everything ranging from improved grazing, fencing and waterers to work done on range management practices. There are 150-plus different conservation practices funded through EQIP, and that’s just one funding program."
Knowledge is power. It’s a good idea for farmers to work with their local conservation office to develop a comprehensive farm conservation plan, Knight advises. A thorough understanding of conservation program priorities and options will help farmers align their needs with federal conservation objectives.
"Roll up your sleeves, ask lots of questions and listen to the advice you receive," Knight says. "Take time building that relationship with the conservation personnel. They may suggest applying for a different program. Since EQIP is the most well-known conservation program with the largest share of funds, there’s probably a backlog of applications. Other funding programs such as WHIP [Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program] or CSP [Conservation Stewardship Program] might be just as appropriate.
"Once the application is submitted, take an active role in the ranking process. Answers on the ranking sheet make a tremendous difference in the competitiveness of your application," he advises.
Knight’s conservation plan, developed for his ranch in the Gann Valley area of his native state of South Dakota, is nearly 2" thick. "By working with the conservation office every year, I stay informed about funding options. I also take the initiative to keep abreast of opportunities to partner with Fish and Wildlife authorities and NRCS [Natural Resources Conservation Service]. All this activity helps me control my conservation costs."
A good plan. Gaye Benfer, an assistant state conservationist for programs in Salina, Kan., advises farmers to be aware of funding cutoff dates.
"The more time we have to work on their conservation plan, the better the plan and the application will be," Benfer says. "We tell farmers not to give up trying. The last few years, we’ve only had enough funds for about one-third of the applications we received, but it’s important to keep applying."
Knowing the goals of the agency you’re dealing with will help when completing the application. NRCS, for example, strives to improve water quality, sequester carbon, reduce soil erosion and conserve wildlife habitat for endangered species.
"All NRCS programs are designed to encourage voluntary conservation practices on private working agricultural lands that also benefit the public," Knight says. "Done right, conservation doesn’t cost you money—it pays, through increased productivity and reduced risk."