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More money for conservation

The local conservation office wants ag producers in Hill County to know there are some new opportunities to get help paying for conservation practices on their land.

Deana Biegalke Grabofsky, conservationist in the Hill County office of the U.S. National Resources Conservation Service, said the 2002 Farm Bill made changes in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

"Under the last farm bill, the rules changed drastically. It made many more people eligible under the new regulations," Grabofsky said. "I want people to know the program is available."

Feb. 15 is the deadline to apply for 2004 funding from the program, as well as to apply for the Grassland Reserves Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

The EQIP program requires that the producer help pay for the project, with the amount depending on the type and intent of the conservation practice. Grabofsky said the 2003 program provided about $297,000 in Hill County for conservation improvements. The amount the county can receive this year has not yet been determined, she said.

Farmers and ranchers have already completed seven or eight projects that were approved in last year's funding, she added.

"It's pretty amazing," Grabofsky said.

She added that the money is a significant benefit to the economy. Much of the $297,000 will go to local supply and implement dealers, and will be respent by the owners and employees of those businesses.

EQIP is a voluntary conservation program for farmers and ranchers. The program provides technical and financial help to install or implement practices on eligible land to promote agricultural production and help environmental quality.

The applications the NRCS office receives will be ranked on a scale depending on the conservation practice proposed by the producer. Grabofsky said the proposals with the highest ranking will be funded first, then the next highest until the money available for the type of practice runs out. The producer can apply for the program in the next year if funding isn't available this year.

"We will fund until we run out of money. Once that money is disseminated, the next person wouldn't be able to be funded until next year," she said.

The NRCS office takes applications all year, but if someone applies later than Feb. 15, the application would be for the 2005 funding cycle.

A variety of conservation practices are eligible for the program. For example, if cattle are causing erosion on the banks of the Milk River as they go down to drink, EQIP could provide assistance to build a fence or install a pump, pipeline and water tank to keep the cattle away from the river.

One of the focuses in Hill County this year is eliminating saline seep. The local working group increased the number of points those types of projects will receive, Grabofsky said.

Another high priority is to reduce the amount of waste from agriculture, especially waste that enters main waterways.

The program allows the working group in each county to decide what the local concerns are and what to prioritize, Grabofsky said. The group decides how to distribute the money among different conservation practices and how many ranking points to give to different practices when evaluating the applications.

"This is kind of a learning thing for all of us," she added.

She said the local NRCS representatives are available to discuss proposals with producers.


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