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USDA announces farm bill program participation

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The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Kentucky is encouraging landowners, farmers and producers to visit their local NRCS office now to receive information and apply for conservation technical assistance and possible financial funding opportunities.

The application process for NRCS's conservation programs is continuous, but funding selections are made at specific times throughout the year.

The Kentucky NRCS first application cutoff period date for consideration for 2013 funds is Jan. 18. Applications received after Jan. 18 will be held until the next application cut off period, which will be April 19.

NRCS State Conservationist Karen Woodrich announced this month that technical and financial assistance is available to eligible applicants for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

EQIP is a conservation program that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to soil, water, air and related natural resources on their land.

Through EQIP, NRCS develops contracts with agricultural producers to voluntarily implement conservation practices. People engaged in livestock or agricultural production and owners of non-industrial private forestland are eligible for this program. Eligible land includes cropland, pastureland, private non-industrial forestland and other farm or ranch lands.

EQIP offers several national and state initiatives including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative, Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, Organic Initiative, On-Farm Energy Initiative, Wildlife Initiative and Forestry Initiative.

Interested land users should visit their local NRCS Office to find out what opportunities are available through each of these EQIP initiatives.  

A second conservation program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, offers opportunities through the Working Lands for Wildlife, which focuses on the recovery of certain at-risk, threatened or endangered wildlife species while helping other vulnerable and game species that depend on similar habitat.

In Kentucky, the golden-winged warbler is the species of concern for parts of three Kentucky counties, including Bell, Letcher and Harlan.

"We're urging producers to get their applications in as soon as possible to be considered for this year's funding," Woodrich said.

All recipients of assistance are required to develop a conservation plan. Conservation planning is an integral part of the conservation process. Landowners should work with a conservation planner to develop the plan based on the landowner's operational goals to improve the productivity, sustainability and profitability of their operation.

The conservation plan will serve as a roadmap to a variety of technical assistance and financial assistance through EQIP and WHIP, as well as other options available to the landowner.

"We're getting back to our roots with conservation planning," Woodrich said.

"Conservation planning is the vital first step in understanding natural resources on your land, and also understanding how technical and financial conservation assistance can be incorporated into your operation to help you help the land.

"Now is the time to contact your local NRCS Field Office to develop a conservation plan."

For more information, visit NRCS online at www.ky.nrcs.usda.gov or contact the local NRCS service center at offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app. Taylor County Conservation District is also now on Facebook.