Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist, Jane Hardisty, announces several special, targeted Farm Bill Initiatives with almost three million dollars available for Indiana farmers that target specific natural resource concerns. These projects include the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program, Mississippi River Basin Initiative, Great Lakes River Basin Initiative, National Water Quality Initiative, On-Farm Energy Initiative, and Organic Initiative. All of the announced opportunities are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and provide farmers financial assistance to implement conservation practices on their land to address specific resource concerns. “These targeted projects allow us to address specific natural resource concerns, and provide a less competitive option for producers to work in these areas. Applicants don’t have to compete with all of the statewide EQIP applications for these projects, just those applying for each specific initiative,” said Hardisty. Applications submitted by February 21, 2014 will be considered for this year’s funding. Information about each initiative follows.
The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) is a voluntary conservation initiative that provides assistance to agricultural producers who want to implement practices that conserve surface and ground water and improve water quality. AWEP operates through program contracts with producers to plan and implement conservation practices in project areas established through partnership agreements. Indiana currently has two AWEP projects: LaPorte and Southeast Lake Michigan, with $678,000 available to farmers for conservation work.
Indiana is one of 12 states that will receive additional Farm Bill dollars for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative (MRBI). This initiative helps producers implement conservation practices that avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; and maintain agricultural productivity. Indiana has one project in the Middle Eel watershed, with $735,000 available to farmers for conservation work.
Farmers in the St. Joseph, Upper Maumee, Auglaize and St. Mary’s watersheds are eligible for a special conservation initiative to help clean up the Great Lakes. Indiana is one of eight states to receive federal funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). GLRI focuses on agricultural practices that have the highest benefit for improving water quality, and practices that establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat and assist in controlling invasive species. Indiana is awaiting funds for this initiative, but anticipates around $400,000 will be available for farmers.
The National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) will assist farmers with the cost to address high-priority water resource concerns in watersheds identified as impaired by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This initiative utilizes a special EQIP funding allocation to accelerate efforts to improve water quality in three 12-digit watersheds with streams designated by the EPA for the Clean Water Act section 303(d) list of impaired waters. The three watersheds eligible for NWQI funding include Silver Creek, Ell Creek, and Eagle Creek Reservoir – Eagle Creek, with $941,000 available to producers.
The 2014 On-Farm Energy Initiative specifically addresses energy conservation through practice implementation and for development of an Agricultural Energy Management Plan. The program is designed to assist producers by identifying ways to conserve energy on their farms through an on-farm energy audit and to provide assistance to implement various recommended measures through the use of conservation practice standards offered through this initiative, and $100,000 is available to assist farmers with this work.
Through the EQIP Organic Initiative, NRCS provides assistance to eligible producers for installation of conservation practices on organic or agricultural operations transitioning to organic production. $50,000 is available to assist farmers under this initiative.
Funding for seasonal high tunnels, a practice that extends the growing season will be available through the Indiana Specialty Crop fund pool and through the Organic Initiative.
Hardisty stresses it is important for any landowner interested in conservation programs to have a conservation plan first. For more information on how to get a conservation plan or any of these initiatives, please contact your local NRCS District Conservationist. To locate the office in your area, please visit: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/contact/local/. Information on the EQIP program is also available on the Indiana NRCS webpage at: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/programs/financial/eqip/