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USDA Conservation Programs #88

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is an active partner in implementing conservation practices on farms and woodlands. We encourage NRCS to improve their relevance and ability to aid farmers with conservation issues.

To maximize agriculture’s participation in farm bill conservation programs, we recommend the following:

Farm Bill Programs

  • NRCS and Michigan Farm Bureau aggressively informing producers about federal farm bill opportunities (e.g., Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) financial assistance) and cooperative efforts with NRCS, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and conservation districts, including the amount of federal farm bill conservation money coming to producers and landowners of Michigan from this cooperation.

  • Simplifying farm bill programming for farmers, as NRCS programming is paper-driven and difficult to manage.

  • Expediting the use of NRCS funding for conservation district programs.

  • Encouraging the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to hold sign-ups in the first quarter of each year to allow additional time for education about the program.

  • Conservation program eligibility being determined by total environmental benefit rather than location within the watershed.

  • All NRCS offices accepting applications for annual programs after closing dates, making them eligible for upcoming sign-up cycles.

  • Continuing voluntary programs like the Wetlands Reserve Easements and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to provide farmers compensation in exchange for conservation easements.

  • The Michigan NRCS Technical Committee evaluating Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program verification eligibility for Conservation Stewardship Program.

Practice Standards

  • Allowing more flexible standards for USDA conservation practices.

  • Filter strip plant variety recommendations including pollinator supportive plants.

  • The Farm Service Agency (FSA) enrolling more acres in the Conservation Reserve Program around ditches and streams to decrease the amount of nutrient runoff on fields.

  • Directing NRCS and FSA to prioritize using filter strips as a nutrient management tool with flexible standards such as allowing mowing of filter strips and removal of cut vegetation.

  • Preliminary technical wetland and highly erodible land determinations being made within 30 days. After 30 days, producers may hire an outside vendor to conduct the determination(s), before proceeding with the proposed land improvement project(s).

  • Defining wetlands as a naturally occurring and functioning area of predominately hydric soils that presently support hydrophytic vegetation because of existing wetland hydrology. 

  • Requiring USDA to determine a minimum acreage criteria for automatic minimal effect designation.

  • Michigan USDA (NRCS and FSA) staff completing wetland and highly erodible land determinations and appeals process within 12 months.

  • Promoting the economic and environmental benefits of using grid/zone soil sampling and/or Variable Rate Fertilizer Technology through the Conservation Stewardship Program.

  • Michigan, Ohio and Indiana NRCS including cover crop cost-share on all acres enrolling in RCPP, including farm tract acres with preexisting cover crop history.

USDA Offices and Staffing

  • Staffing county offices with professional personnel who have experience in administrative duties, agricultural production, and communication skills, with preference given to local candidates.

  • Immediate evaluation of current USDA staffing, compensation, and training at the county, regional, and state levels, including county committees, to assist in attaining an adequate, streamlined, and talented staff that meets the programmatic needs of USDA applicants and customers.

  • USDA ensuring all staff are properly trained and certified to do all facets of their job within one year of hire.

  • Michigan NRCS continuing the practice of co-locating conservation districts in their offices.

  • Moving or relocating NRCS staff to areas of greater need or where their skills are better matched, while ensuring job applicants within the state have a fair and equal opportunity to apply for positions for which they qualify.

  • NRCS filling vacant positions in a timely manner to facilitate implementation of programs and practices.

  • Modifying the system for county office classifications to attract staff with greater talent and experience.

  • Michigan NRCS creating regional education specialists to present NRCS programs at industry meetings of farmers and woodland owners across the state.

  • Creating county farmer oversight committees for local NRCS offices.

  • Increasing farmer representation on the State Technical Committee.


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