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Thursday
August 13th, 2020

ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

Officials with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced recently the investment of $35 million in grants to enhance outreach to the nation’s farmers and ranchers for the delivery and adoption of conservation measures.

The deadline for this year’s proposals was last Friday, but producers can continue to apply for the next year’s grants at any time.

Projects targeted in multiple states, including Kansas, include tribal, socially disadvantaged, limited-resource or beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as veteran farmers and ranchers.

Locally, Seward County District Conservationist Leslie Spikes explained how the conservation collaborative grants work.

“NRCS has multiple facets for grants, and we also provide financial assistance directly to farmers through contracts,” she said. “The grants are a really good way to spread that money out more and target different groups of people we don’t normally get to through our everyday common programs – the programs farmers are used to.”

NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said the top priority is delivering customer service to all of the nation’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

“These grants are an important tool for reaching underserved communities,” he said. “Through these partnerships, we will be better equipped to expand our reach and add to our customer base those producers seeking to implement conservation.”

Spikes said every state has many conservation partners, and locally, those include K-State Research and Extension and Pheasants Forever.

NRCS is accepting proposals in two different categories:

• Outreach to assist historically underserved groups – Increase the delivery of conservation assistance to historically underserved farmers and ranchers through a combination of program outreach and technical assistance in managing natural resources. Historically underserved producers include tribal, socially disadvantaged, limited-resource or beginning farmers and ranchers and those who are veteran farmers and ranchers.

“They target soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat for species of concern, improving environmental economic performance on working land  and assisting communities and groups,” Spikes said.

The conservationist said outreach could include the targeting of some type of conservation project NRCS is not reaching by an agency such as K-State Extension.

“They get awarded the grant, and for the outreach they would most likely use, these producers could get hit up with letters and e-mails and phone calls,” she said. “We get a lot of good response from a producer if there is a phone call or a personal contact made.”

• Collaboration on strategic natural resource issues – Projects that provide technical assistance to farmers and ranchers for the transfer of technology and development of natural resource tools. These projects can receive $500,000 to $2 million.

Spikes said many producers fit into both of these categories, but many of them will not come into the USDA office for assistance.

“This assistance is here for anybody, but these projects, they’ll target both types of producers,” she said. “It’s good there’s a pot of money that targets the historically underserved.”

Spikes said if a partner applies for a grant and gets, that partner then takes over the project, but NRCS is still involved. 

“They use NRCS money, and they can use NRCS employees for any technical assistance,” she said. “More than likely, they’ll just handle the majority of that project. In addition to the collaborative grants, the one that’s more local to Kansas is our CIG, which is Conservation Innovative Grants. These are really neat. We had a sign up last year.”

Spikes said the CIG program provides an even bigger pot of money available at the state and national level.

“I think there were 10 to 15 awarded through the CIG,” she said. “We would surely hope our local partners would apply for the collaborative grant, but they might pick and choose what type of NRCS grant they go for.”

Spikes said K-State applied for most of the CIG grants in Kansas, but the local Groundwater Management District 3 also applied for one.

“K-State applied for one that is for cover crops and best management practices in dryland fields,” she said. “K-State will be granted one that is for irrigated cropland and utilizing cover crops with an aerial way of applying it. It’s airplanes or spray booms that can actually put that cover crop seed on the ground. Cover crops, it’s a little bit different conservation practice. Both focus on cover crops, this one on dryland, this one on irrigated where a farmer would have to fly it on. These’ll get started next year.”

Spikes said NRCS will rank proposals with an emphasis placed on projects that leverage private resources and better enable staff and conservation partners to deliver conservation assistance.

“They will choose producers,” she said. “I think we suggested some producers, and they’ll follow up with them. Then they’ll start doing trials on the fields.”

Spikes said local NRCS officials are encouraging area partners to push the idea of conservation and carrying out efforts to provide this type of financial and technical assistance.

“NRCS can’t do this on its own, and when we partner with any other agency, entity, group, they bring expertise maybe NRCS doesn’t have,” she said. “They’re highly beneficial. We can only do so much from our traditional programs here, and they can actually take conservation out to more groups of people.”

Spikes said she is unsure of how much money will be awarded to area producers.

“We won’t know,” she said. “If any entity or group, I think even an individual can apply for  a grant, they’ll apply at the national level for these, so it might not actually even be anybody from Kansas who gets awarded those collaborative grants.”

To learn more about requirements or how submit a proposal for these grants, visit grants.gov.

“It’ll probably run through this Farm Bill,” Spikes said. “That would be my guess. Just talking with K-State in general, universities and these groups know to start looking for the deadlines to apply. If a group has missed a deadline, definitely visit the Web site, and get your grant prepared and get it ready for the next deadline. There’ll be more coming.”

Spikes said it is great to have grants and local partners for area agriculture.

“We always have financial assistance for projects, and even if they don’t want to work with us and tie it up in a contract with cost share money, sometimes, we have producers who just use our assistance for technical advice for free,” she said. “We’re always here on that aspect as well.”

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