NRCS Helps People Help The Land
This year the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebrates 75 years of helping America’s private landowners conserve their soil, water and other natural resources.
Originally called the Soil Conservation Service, the NRCS provides conservation technical assistance and financial assistance for many conservation activities. Participation in NRCS programs is voluntary.
Here, in Fulton County, where farming operations, both full and part time, and forestland dot the countryside and many look to the land for their livelihood, the McConnellsburg NRCS office is beginning the 75th anniversary year under the guidance of a new district conservationist.
A 12-year veteran of the NRCS, Brad A. Michael, 32, grew up on a farm near Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and believes that most landowners are interested in protecting and being stewards of the land. He admits that some may have more interest in conservation than others, but says they are all stewards of the land they own.
“You can’t help but be some type of steward of the land if you’re going to live off the land,” Michael said.
The backbone of the work the NRCS does, Michael says, is the conservation plan that is pre- pared by the district conservationist with input from the landowner. Providing technical assistance to address particular situations on a property, for instance, weeds, is another important role of the NRCS.
“We’re going to work to provide technical assistance to private landowners to help with the management and protection of natural resources ... ,” said Michael. “Everybody needs clean water to drink and everybody wants healthy productive soils to grow crops or timber. Maybe it’s for wildlife benefits, maybe it’s for business – farming or forestry.”
About 40 to 50 conservation plans are written by the NRCS each year in Fulton County. The plans can be big or small, ranging in size from as few as two acres to as many as 200.
To put together a conservation plan, the district conservationist first evaluates the property. He works with the landowner to find out what the landowner’s objectives are. Options for meeting those objectives are determined, and the landowner makes the decision as to how to proceed.
“As part of those decisions, if some of the different best management practices that can apply are implemented on the farm or on the forestland, we can come in and sometimes some of our programs fit to provide an incentive to offset the cost of implementation,” said Michael.
The NRCS offers landowners a variety of incentive-based conservation programs. Many of them have been employed by county landowners to address their conservation needs. Programs include:
. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – Provides financial and technical assistance to farmers who face threats to soil, water, air and related natural resources on their land;
. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – Reduces soil erosion and sedimentation in streams and lakes, improves water quality, establishes wildlife habitat and enhances forest and wetland resources;
. Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) – A program for landowners and operators to protect, restore and enhance grassland; and
. Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP)– Helps farmers keep their land in agriculture.
There are other incentivebased programs that address agricultural management, conservation stewardship, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and conservation opportunities for minority farmers, beginning farmers and limited resource farmers.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI) is a newer program administered by NCRS that Michael expects to utilize more and more here over the next few years now that some of Fulton County’s watersheds have been targeted as priority watersheds.
CBWI offers technical and financial assistance to help agricultural producers implement a system of core conservation practices to help control erosion, and to minimize excess nutrients and sediments in order to restore, preserve and protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Most of Fulton County’s watersheds drain into the Chesapeake Bay, according to Michael, and farms within those watersheds are eligible to apply for CBWI assistance, but farms in targeted watersheds will get priority.
Ten million dollars in CBWI funding has been allocated to Pennsyvlania in 2010, up $5 million from last year.
Michael says he cannot stress enough that involving the NRCS in private landowners’ conservation issues is voluntary.
“People voluntarily participate; they request our assistance. They voluntarily work within our programs, and they make the decision to enter into contracts.”
A graduate of West Virginia University, Michael came to Fulton County from Lancaster County, where he worked for six years as the NRCS’ supervisory district conservationist. He says he has a “lifetime passion” for the kind of work he does, and he comes by that passion honestly. His father worked for the NRCS for 36 years, and his grandfather worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The county’s new district conservationist resides on the family farm in Berkeley Springs with his wife, who is a ag business graduate of Delaware Valley College, and son. They are renovating the homestead, and he and his wife hope to continue the Michael family beef operation.
“We’ll see where that leads,” Michael said.
Michael’s McConnellsburg office is located at 216 North Second Street in the USDA Agriculture Service Center. His office hours are 7 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Telephone 717-485-3812, extension 107, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about NRCS technical assistance and prothey