Conservation Assistance for Latino Farmers and Ranchers from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
BY TRACY ROBILLARD
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a federal government agency under the United States Department of Agriculture. The primary mission of NRCS is to help people help the land. NRCS offers financial assistance programs and conservation planning assistance to agricultural producers of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, free of charge.
Participation in NRCS conservation programs is entirely voluntary. Farmers who choose to work with NRCS can improve soil health, crop productivity, livestock animal health, wildlife habitat, water use, and more.
Assistance is available to producers who own, manage or lease land used for agricultural production, including cropland, rangeland, pastureland and non-industrial private forestland. In Alaska, lands managed for subsistence hunting, harvesting and gathering are considered agricultural lands and are also eligible for NRCS programs.
NRCS works with farmers, ranchers and forest owners to identify natural resource concerns on the land and develop solutions to address them. A resource concern is a problem that NRCS identifies on the land that negatively impacts the sustainability or intended use of soil, water, air, plants, animals, or energy.
For example, soil erosion caused by wind and water is a common resource concern for farmers in Alaska. NRCS can help farmers fix the erosion on their property by installing various conservation practices, such as planting cover crops. A conservation practice is an action that farmers willingly apply on their land with guidance from NRCS.
Another example of a resource concern is poor crop/plant health. A seasonal high tunnel is a popular conservation practice in Alaska that can help farmers improve plant health by protecting crops from frost and extending the growing season. The first step is to develop a conservation plan. A friendly NRCS certified conservation planner will work one-on-one with the farmer to develop a plan for their operation. A conservation plan is a written record of resource concerns and conservation practices that the farmer plans to implement and maintain on the property.
Once a producer has completed their conservation plan with NRCS, they can apply for financial assistance to perform the activities identified in their plan.
The most common financial assistance program offered by NRCS is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP works like a mail-in rebate—producers typically pay the costs up-front to perform the conservation practice, then NRCS will reimburse them for a portion of the cost after the work has been completed. There is also an advanced payment option in which NRCS will pay at least half of the cost up-front.
For more information about working with NRCS for the first time, view the online Welcome Packet for new customers at http://bit.ly/AKEQIPnew or contact a local NRCS Alaska Field Office and speak with a conservation planner:
• Fairbanks (907) 479-3159 • Delta Junction (907) 895-4241 • Wasilla (907) 479-3159 • Juneau (907) 586-7220 • Kenai (907) 283-8732 • Homer (907) 235-8177 • Kodiak (907) 486-5598 USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.
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