Feds offer farmers aid for conservation work

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Farmers in Cape Girardeau County who have developed conservation plans for their land may be able to receive financial assistance from the federal government by participating in the conservation security program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture program is part of the 2002 Farm Bill and was created to promote conservation by rewarding farmers for using conservation measures.

This is the first year that the program has been available. Although it will eventually be for farmers whose land is along 18 watersheds nationwide, this year it is only for those whose land is along the Little River Ditches watershed.

Other watersheds will be added to the grant program over an eight-year period. About $41 million is available for distribution in all the watersheds.

The Little River Ditches watershed was chosen for the program because of the high use of fertilizers and pesticides in the area, as well as its proximity to the Mississippi River.

In Missouri, the Little River Ditches watershed is in Bollinger, Scott, Stoddard, Pemiscot, Dunklin and Cape Girardeau counties.

According to James Hunt, district conservationist with the USDA Service Center for Cape Girardeau and Perry counties, 40,000 acres of land in Cape Girardeau County lie within the watershed.

To be eligible for the conservation security funding, farmers must meet the following criteria:

They must be following nutrient and pesticide management.

Their land must have a soil conditioning index of zero or greater; the index is based on trends influencing the amount of organic matter in a field.

Those eligible must complete the sign-up process by July 30. One of the first parts of the process is filling out a self-assessment workbook, which are available at USDA service centers. In Cape Girardeau County, the center is at 480 W. Jackson Trail in Jackson.

All of this information is sent to a national database to be assessed. Farmers should be notified of their approval in August.

Payments to farmers will be given through a five- to 10-year contract.

The payment amounts they can receive depend on the number of conservation practices used, the type of land and the number of acres.

Hunt said that farmers could receive up to $15 for each acre annually for their irrigated cropland and up to $10 per acre annually for nonirrigated cropland.

Farmers will also be eligible for enhancement payments if they agree to take on additional conservation programs on their land.

Hunt said eight attended a public meeting about the conservation security program at his office Wednesday. He has talked to five or six more interested farmers since then.

How long that interest will last is another story.

"I think we're going to have a lot of initial interest, but I don't know if we'll have a lot of people who will go through the whole process," Hunt said.


335-6611, extension 182

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