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North-central eligible for emergency program


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A program to prevent wind erosion has found new life this year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency is providing emergency funding for a program to prevent wind erosion and reduce health and safety hazards in 11 north-central Montana counties.

The new program is identical to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which was funded by USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service. It pays for seeding new plant cover and for no-till chemical application of weed control.

"When we ran out of money in one pocket, we switched to the other pocket," Mike Zook, director of the FSA in Hill County, said today.

The assistance has been offered in the 11 counties in part because of the severe drought north-central Montana is experiencing.

"Even though we're sitting pretty nice in precipitation right now, we want to make sure the land is not mechanically tilled, to prevent erosion," Zook said.

The program is offered in Blaine, Hill, Liberty, Chouteau, Cascade, Fergus, Judith Basin, Phillips, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties.

Zook said existing and new applications will be considered under the emergency funding.

"Our plan is to go ahead and analyze those already submitted. We strongly urge people to come in as soon as possible if they are interested in seeing if they have any land that is eligible," he said.

Under the old program, EQIP allocated $750,000 to Montana. In Hill County, 41 producers out of about 350 farms that applied received $178,000 before the money ran out, Zook said.

The new program, called the Emergency Conservation Program, has provided $1 million to Montana.

The land must meet several guidelines to qualify for the program. It must be eroding at a level at least three times higher than is acceptable. It also must be within one mile of a transportation route or within two miles of a population center.

Crop acreage that was mechanically tilled in 2001 is not eligible.

New applications can be submitted starting today. Producers interested in seeding a cover crop must apply by Friday. The deadline for the no-till portion of the program is July 1.

Most producers are interested in the no-till chemical application part of the program, Zook said. Since they would have to disturb the soil to seed it and are so far into the growing season, most producers are not interested in planting a new cover, he said.

The program pays 64 percent of average costs. The payment is $12.80 an acre for establishing a new cover, and $7.68 an acre for no-till chemical application. The payment limitation per operator is $4,000.

For more information, contact the county FSA offices.

On the Net: USDA Montana Farm Services Agency: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/mt/


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