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Special initiatives address forestry, invasive plants, organic agriculture

Nebraska

Nebraska farmers and ranchers have more opportunities than ever to conserve natural resources on their land through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, according to Steve Chick, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to soil, water, air and other natural resources on their land. Through EQIP, the Natural Resources Conservation Service develops contracts with landowners to implement practices that address natural resource concerns.

"Through the 2008 farm bill several new EQIP special initiatives have been introduced. Interested producers should visit their local NRCS office soon and apply. Our offices will begin ranking applications on June 1," Chick said.

The EQIP "Special Initiatives," include: Nebraska Forestry Special Initiative, EQIP Organic Initiative, Nebraska Invasive Plant Species Special Initiative, Expiring CRP Initiative, Agriculture Water Enhancement Program and Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative. A brief description of each initiative is listed below.

The Nebraska Forestry Special Initiative is designed to address planting and/or managing forest resources in Nebraska. Applicable practices for this Initiative include: prescribed burning, windbreak/shelterbelt establishment, fence, riparian forest buffers, tree/shrub establishment, restoration or management of rare or declining habitats, upland wildlife habitat management, windbreak renovation, tree/shrub pruning, and forest stand improvement. Special emphasis will be placed on practices to improve existing woodlands.

The EQIP Organic Initiative offers technical and financial support to producers transitioning new acres to organic agriculture. Six core conservation practices will be the focus of this Initiative--conservation crop rotation, cover crop, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing and forage harvest management. Through this Initiative producers may receive up to $20,000 per year or $80,000 during a six-year period.

The Nebraska Invasive Plant Species Special Initiative was developed to reduce the negative impacts to agriculture and wildlife by the encroachment of invasive plant species on over-appropriated riparian areas in the central and western portion of the state. Brush management will be the primary tool used for this Initiative.

The Expiring CRP Initiative provides landowners with expiring Conservation Reserve Program acres with an extended deadline to apply for grassland conservation practices under EQIP.

The Agriculture Water Enhancement Program Initiative provides financial and technical assistance to producers to implement water enhancement activities on agricultural land for the purposes of conserving surface and ground water and improving water quality. AWEP operates through contracts with producers to plan and implement conservation practices in project areas. The project area has yet to be established in Nebraska and sign up for this initiative will begin after proposals are approved.

The Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative is designed to encourage investment in natural resource conservation by non-Federal sources. Partners eligible to enter into a CCPI agreement with NRCS include federally recognized Indian Tribes, state and local units of government, farmer cooperatives, producer associations, institutions of higher education, and other non-governmental organizations with a history of working cooperatively with producers to address conservation priorities related to agriculture and nonindustrial private forest land. The project area has yet to be established in Nebraska and sign up for this initiative will begin after proposals are approved.

The EQIP Special Initiatives listed above have varying payment rates. All other "General" EQIP payments are limited to $300,000 a person or entity for all contracts entered into during any six-year period. An increased payment rate is available for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and beginning and limited resource farmers and ranchers. It further allows these producers to receive advance payment up to 30 percent of the amount determined for the purpose of purchasing materials and services. To see if you qualify for this additional payment visit www.lrftool.sc.egov.usda.gov/.

EQIP is available for persons engaged in livestock or agricultural production and owners of non-industrial private forestland. Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pastureland, private non-industrial forestland, and other farm or ranch lands.

Persons interested in entering into an EQIP agreement may file an application at any time, but the ranking of applications to receive funding will begin June 1. Producers are encouraged to sign up soon since all funding for EQIP in Nebraska will be obligated by Aug. 3. The first step is to visit a local NRCS field office and complete an application.

For more information about EQIP and the other available conservation programs visit your local NRCS field office or www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.



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