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Minutes of State Technical Committee Meetings

 

New Jersey State Technical Committee

Meeting Minutes

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New Jersey State Technical Committee
DRAFT -  Minutes of March 5, 2014

Attachments to March 5 Minutes

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Those in attendance: Amy Hansen, NJCF; Andrew Burnett, NJDFW; Audrey Moore, US EPA Region 2; Beth Freiday, USFWS; Betsy McShane, NRCS; Bill Angstadt, Growmark FS; Bill Pitts, NJDEP ENSP; Bob Erikson, National Wild Turkey Federation; Bonnie McDevitt, NJ Water Assoc.; Brian McLendon, NJDEP; Brian Marsh, USFWS, NJFO; Brian Zarate, NJDEP-ENSP; Bruce Eklund, NASS; Carrie Mosley, NRCS; Charles Roohr, NJ SADC; Christine Hall, NRCS; Dan Mull, NRCS; Dave Clapp, NJDA; Diane Gunson, Kingfisher Farm; Don Knezick, Pinelands Nursery; Eric Olsen, TNC; Eric Schrading, USFWS, NJFO; Evan Madlinger, NRCS; Fran Grasso, NRCS; Gail Bartok, NRCS; Grace Messinger, North Jersey RC&D; Gylla MacGregor, NJAS; Janice Brogle, NJDEP; Jean Lynch, NJAS; John Cecil, NJ Audubon; Jon Klischies, NJ State Forest Service; Kathy Hale, NJWSA; Kim Korth, NJ DFW ENSP; ; Kristen Meistrell, NJA; Kristina Heinemann, US EPA Region 2; Lauren Lapczynski, NRCS; Liz Thompson, NJFB; Mike Westendorf, Rutgers Cooperative Ext.; Mitchell Jones, Mountain Top Farm; Nancy Coles, USDA FSA; Nancy Paolini, NRCS; Paul Hlubik, FSA (via VTC); Raj Sinha, Farmer; Rich Shaw, NRCS; Sam Conard, S.R. Conard and Sons, LLC; Steve Eisenhauer, NLT; Steve Gould, US EPA; Tim Fekete, NJDA SSCC; Tom Almendinger, Duke Farms 

Pre-Meeting for Newbies - Christine Hall

A short introductory meeting was held at 9:15 am for those new to the committee. Christine Hall explained the mission and role of the committee. New people were introduced.

Welcome & Introductions - Carrie Mosley

Carrie Mosley opened the meeting at 10:12 am and thanked everyone for attending the State Technical Committee (STC) meeting. Paul Hlubik, State Executive Director with the NJ FSA, joined the meeting from Hamilton Square through the use of video teleconference equipment.

Carrie reminded attendees that the role of this committee is to provide feedback and guidance to NRCS as we develop and implement our Farm Bill conservation programs. Carrie thanked everyone for attending and commented on how we may need a larger meeting space since we are so well attended. She explained how important it is for Ag Business, Farmers, Regulatory groups and other agencies to attend and provide recommendations to help us guide our Farm Bill program decisions and funding priorities. Last year NRCS distributed 12 million dollars for conservation in NJ. These meetings help us focus the efforts and it helps everyone.

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Status - Carrie Mosley

Carrie explained that the Farm Bill was passed in February. We do not have a lot of details to share today, but we will be sharing what we do know. Congress passes a bill to authorize funding. Once the bill is passed, then Secretary of Agriculture divides the responsibilities, then the agencies need to write rules and regulations to support the programs. Carrie then explained how the new Farm Bill is driving the mission of this committee. Since there were many new members she gave a brief history of NRCS.

The money from the Farm Bill is typically 2/3 of the budget. The other 1/3 comes from other technical assistance activities such as the Natural Resources Inventory and Soil Survey.

September Meeting Minutes review and acceptance - Christine Hall 

There were no comments or corrections to the September meeting minutes. The minutes were accepted.

OLD BUSINESS

2013 Program Summary - Gail Bartok

Gail Bartok presented a power point presentation recapping the 2013 Farm Bill programs (Attachment A). The presentation explained where we spent our program dollars and what practices were planned and installed with those dollars. Gail Bartok is the Assistant State Conservationist for Programs and is responsible for the Farm Bill Programs. Her role is to assist the field staff in implementing programs and to work cooperatively with our partners/entities on partnership programs.

In 2013, NRCS in NJ obligated 12 million dollars. The majority of funds went to Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). FRPP and WRP are easement programs. With FRPP, we work with entities to secure parcels for farmland preservation. WRP enrolls agricultural areas with drained or altered wetlands in easements to restore the wetland functions and values. EQIP helps private landowners install conservation practices to address resource concerns on their property.

NRCS distributes funds to different priority areas in EQIP through “fund pools” The New Jersey fund pools for 2013 were Livestock, Cropland, Wildlife/Forest land, and Irrigated Cropland. The use of fund pools allows producers to compete with other producers on similar issues. For example, livestock producers compete with other livestock operations. Our Farm Bill mandate is to spend 60% of our funds nationally on livestock. Carrie Mosley asked if anyone had any ideas on how to reach more livestock producers?

Kristina Heinemann asked what percentage of New Jersey operations are in livestock? (According to the 2007 Agricultural Census, approximately 39 percent of NJ farms are involved in animal production.)

Action Item: Convene outreach subcommittee to discuss ways to outreach to livestock operations.

Gail explained that the top ten practices for NJ reflect the top four resource concerns for NJ according to the State Technical Committee poll. NJ has been making progress through ranking and program promotion to fund the practices and priorities that we want to see.
The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) completed the final, fifth year in 2013 in NJ. The AWEP program is a partnership program. In NJ, the Raritan River AWEP project was approved as a water quality project in 2009 through 2013. NRCS partnered with the North Jersey RC&D, NJ Water Supply Authority and the NJ Department of Agriculture to promote water quality improvements in the targeted watersheds.

In 2013, one of the NJ applicants was approved for a nationwide Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). The national CIG competition is awarded before states can award their state specific CIG competition. NJ awarded two CIGs in 2013. We can spend up to 5% of our EQIP allocation on CIGs. The national CIG for 2014 has already been advertised and will close on March 7, 2014. The NJ pre-proposal deadline for the state CIGs is April 30, 2014.

The Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative continued with the same two target species in NJ for 2013: Bog Turtle and Golden Winged Warbler.
Gail provided a brief explanation of the FRPP program’s focus on prime soils and other ranking elements. The Federal funds cover half of the easement cost and the entity provides the other 50% match. It needs to be a non-federal match. The most that NRCS can pay for is 50% of the fair market value.

The WRP program was very successful in NJ in 2013. We were able to request additional money and acres to fund 8 easement projects. Four of the WRP easements are for bog turtle habitat. This is due in part to the State Technical Committee input to provide a greater buffer for bog turtle habitat and an increased GARC rate. Also, thanks to Beth Ciuzio-Freiday for all of her outreach efforts.

CRP, CREP, SAFE Activity - Nancy Coles

Nancy distributed a summary report (Attachment B) of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) as of January 2014. FSA has updated their measurement system using MIDAS. This has changed their total numbers due to increased accuracy. There is opportunity for about 91 more contracts to be enrolled into SAFE. GRP will be put under the CRP.

As of January 2014, 321 practices on 202 farms with 296 contracts were enrolled. The annual rental payments total $168,020. The acreage increased 22.1 acres in 2013. Contracts can be between 10 to 15 years.

In CREP, Nancy reported there are 204 contracts with 720.5 acres. The average acreage is 3.5 acres per contract with an average rental rate of $137/acre. The average size of the contract is very small because we are targeting the environmentally sensitive lands.
The SAFE program was able to pick-up and re-enroll general CRP expiring contracts into the SAFE program. As of January 2014, there are 56 contracts for a total of 656.9 acres. In New Jersey, there are three project areas in SAFE. All areas have room to enroll additional acreage. The Agricultural Heritage project area has 116.7 of 450 acres enrolled. Grassland Habitat area has 350.4 of 750 acres. And the Raritan-Piedmont has 189.8 of 550 acres. All of the practices are available within the three target areas.

In 2013, FSA issued $361,908. Due to the nationally competitive nature of the general CRP program, if a producer is within a SAFE program area, it is better for the producer to enroll in SAFE. There is about 1100 acres that can be enrolled into the program within the regions. There is a tremendous opportunity for producers.

The 2014 rental rates paid so far in through CRP is $11,855.

Nancy Coles reported that the Emergency Conservation Program distributed $152,615 in 2013 and has distributed $58,655 so far in 2014. These payments are continuing into 2014 to producers that were unable to complete the projects in 2013 due to circumstances beyond their control.

The rental provision of the Grassland Reserve Program will be merged with the CRP program and will be related to acres. In 2013, $50,689 was distributed for rental payments. In 2014, $35,171 has been spent so far. A question was posed regarding how these projects will be funded in the future if the general CRP program is so competitive? It is expected that if these projects are located within the SAFE regions that they could apply for the SAFE program, which is not a competitive process. If these projects are not located within SAFE, they will need to apply for general CRP. The general program is a competitive process that is controlled by acres and an indexing based on the environmental benefits. The scores are determined based on the environmental concerns.

In the prior Farm Bill, the GRP program was an interdepartmental program between FSA and NRCS. The contract component was administered by FSA and NRCS administered the easement component. The GRP program as it existed was repealed in the new Farm Bill.

2014 Farm Bill Programs Update - Gail Bartok / Fran Grasso

Fran Grasso presented on the new Farm Bill (Attachment C) and handed out a Fact Sheet (Attachment D) on the program changes. The purpose of the 2014 Farm Bill is to “streamline” and provide “marginal changes” to conservation programs.

A major change in the 2014 Farm Bill is the new Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) requirements for participation eligibility with all programs. The 2014 AGI is now the same for conservation and commodity programs. This will provide greater consistency between NRCS and FSA programs. No potential recipient can make more than $900,000 from on and off farm income. The authority to waive AGI has been eliminated. The 2014 program year will operate without the AGI eligibility requirement for all programs except for AMA, which is not a Farm Bill program. The AGI eligibility requirement will be rolled out for all Farm Bill programs in 2015.

The AGI process is a self-certification that is then verified by IRS based on the bottom-line from income tax forms. NRCS and FSA never see the tax forms. There is an appeals process that is handled through FSA. Paul Hlubik is the NJ contact for appeals. Paul Hlubik explained that there are some complications and more information will be coming.

Another change in the Farm Bill is the new application form – the CPA-1200. The application form was revised to remove program specific questions. The new Veteran Farm or Rancher self-certification was added. In addition, definitions for all special emphasis groups were added and the language was expanded for the Data Universal Number System (DUNS) and System for Award Management (SAM) requirements for entities.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) was discussed. There is little information at this time, but it will include partnership project areas for specific geographic areas. It includes easement and financial programs and consolidates programs such as AWEP and CBWI. Bill Angstat mentioned that discussions are underway in Pennsylvania with partners such as the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. He suggested that NJ could join PA in this project to seek RCPP funding for the Delaware Watershed. The Delaware River serves over 7 million people for drinking water. Many stakeholders are interested in drinking water protection impacts along the Delaware. If your organization is interested in the Delaware area, talk to Bill Angstat.

Action Item: Once additional information is available on the RCPP program, form a sub-committee to discuss RCPP project areas.

The easement programs, FRPP, GRP, and WRP were repealed with the 2014 Farm Bill. Easement programs have been consolidated into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). All easement contracts will continue to be honored and all closed easements are valid. We will continue to monitor and enforce the easements that we have.

There are two components to the ACEP program. The Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) component will operate similar to FRPP where cooperation with an entity is required.

The Wetlands Reserve Easement (WRE) component will mirror WRP. The WRE reduces the ownership requirement from 7 years to 24 months. It authorizes a waiver process to allow enrollment of CRP land established to trees. There is no longer an option to enroll stand-alone restoration cost-share agreements.

The new Farm Bill rescinds the authority for GRP. The GRP program is being merged with ALE and will require an entity match.
The AMA program will have no changes as it is not a Farm Bill program, but it will be subject to the AGI of the current Farm Bill.

The EQIP program has minor changes at this time. The payment limitation was increased to 450,000. Since Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) was repealed, the functions of WHIP will be incorporated into EQIP. A minimum target funding of 5% will be focused on wildlife projects within EQIP.

The CSP program now has an annual enrollment cap of 10 million acres, which is a little less than prior years. In addition, 5 applicable priority resource concerns are needed, which is an increase from 3. There will be no changes to the 2014 sign-up deadline, which ended on February 7th.

Sandy Recovery - Floodplain Easements - Gail Bartok

Gail Bartok reported on the Hurricane Sandy Floodplain Easement (FPE) program. The first round of funding was for the EWP – recovery efforts. Sixteen contracts were awarded for recovery. The second wave of funding was for Floodplain easements. The FPE program can work on residential properties and agricultural/open space lands. In NJ, we had 33 applications and of those 17 properties were approved for funding. 16 were approved along the Delaware Bayshore and one was an agricultural property located in Hunterdon. The goal of FPE is to restore the entire reach of floodplain to natural conditions. An additional round of funding is open until April 18. Residential properties require a public sponsor to enter into an agreement with NRCS for acquisition support and ultimately retain fee-title. Gail provided a fact sheet on the program for those interested. Access the NRCS website for more information.

Geographic Priority Areas & Practices - Carrie Mosley / Christine Hall

Carrie Mosley and Christine Hall presented (Attachment E) on the Geographic Priority Areas that were collected from partner priority areas. State Technical Committee members voluntarily provided maps of their priority areas within the state and NRCS combined them, layering the information within our Geographic Information System (GIS). This final map provides invaluable information because it tells us where others are also focusing their conservation efforts and that combines, we could have a greater affect. NRCS can focus our program dollars in these target areas. If a project is located in an area where many organizations are also targeting, the project will receive additional ranking points this year in EQIP.

NRCS presented three maps (Attachment F) of New Jersey that illustrated where others had established priorities. One map displayed information provided by all groups, another map displayed information from non-wildlife focused groups and the third map reflected priority areas by only wildlife groups. A practices applied map was also shown to overlay practices applied over a three year period over the priority areas.

Our next steps will be to update the maps annually. We will use the maps for program outreach and ranking. Maps can also be shared with partners.

Currently, 50 out of 1,000 of the state ranking points for EQIP are awarded if the project is in a priority areas. A discussion was posed that instead of working on overlapping priority areas maybe it is more beneficial to work in non-priority areas to emphasize areas that are not targeted.

Action Item: Add NJ DEP mapping for landscape projects to the map. It is currently included in the ranking questions, but not part of the priority areas.

Action item: Provide a list of practices that are being implemented in the priority areas. Are the practices being applied in those areas addressing the targeted needs?

Action item: Provide a list of the different groups working in different areas. Show an overlap of different groups in the higher overlapping areas so that efforts can be combined.

NEW BUSINESS

2014 Soil Health Initiative - Christine Hall

Christine Hall shared that a new Soil Health Initiative offered within the 2014 EQIP was released for NJ this year. The Soil Health Initiative stemmed from discussions with a soil health focus group to promote soil health. NJ set aside $400,000 of our EQIP allocation, dedicated to this initiative. The primary practice is a multi-species cover crop. The premise behind multi-species cover crop is that the diversity of roots will provide diversity of microbial activity in the soil, which will in turn help increase soil health. A soil health assessment will be part of this initiative. The NJ Soil staff will do an on farm assessment prior to planting and then monitor the conditions for three consecutive years.

To increase the incentive to participate, NRCS will guarantee funding as long as the participant is eligible. The deadlines for the initiative are March 21 and April 18. Help spread the word about the opportunity.

It was discussed that for winter cover crop, the planting dates of August 31 and September 15 are unreasonable, especially for grain farmers. Dave Clapp mentioned there are aerial seeding companies available to help meet that seeding deadline. In addition, interseeding is also an option.

USFWS Bog Turtle presentation - Eric Schrading

Eric Schrading presented on the bog turtle, a federally listed threatened species. NJ is a strong-hold for this species. It is the smallest North American turtle and typically inhabits shallow spring-fed fens, sphagnum bogs, swamps, marshy meadows, and pastures with soft muddy areas. Primary threats to this species come from loss, fragmentation, and degradation of its fragile, early successional wet meadow habitat, and collection for the wildlife trade. One of the things we can do is remove the invasive species or woody vegetation. One way to do this is through targeted grazing. Many of the bog turtle habitats are on private lands. Of all of the endangered species in NJ, this one has the highest probability of recovery. We have had a lot of success with the bald eagle and we think we can do the same with the bog turtle. That is the intent of the endangered species list: to list them so they can be protected, recover, and get off the list. Bill Pitts, Brian Zarate, landowners, NRCS have all been great partners in helping the species recover.

The Wetlands Reserve Program and the Working Lands for Wildlife program both target the bog turtle as a priority species. So far there have been 4 easements permanently protected for bog turtle habitat. That represents half of the easements that we enrolled in 2013. These programs provide endangered species predictability. We work directly with the landowner so there are no surprises and have clear, upfront communication with the landowner. For the easement program, there is a more significant buffer for bog turtle habitat. For every acre of habitat, a landowner can have 5 acres of buffer habitat, at the higher bog turtle payment rate. This provides private landowners with the motivation to enroll the small areas for bog turtle habitat, which are typically small, around 1-2 acres.

Since the majority of the habitats are on private land, we can’t protect the species without the help of private landowners. We recognize the importance of partners, especially NRCS, to help work with these private landowners. With that, Eric Schrading, Beth Freiday, Brian Marsh with US Fish and Wildlife, presented NRCS with a plaque in recognition of their commitment to endangered species recovery by protecting and restoring bog turtle habitat in New Jersey.

Aquaculture Offerings for 2014 - Lauren Lapczynski / Christine Hall

Gef Flimlin with Rutgers cooperative extension presented at the last meeting on aquaculture in New Jersey. Other NRCS states are providing practices for aquaculture habitat. This year NJ made this available through EQIP as well. Under our Restoration and Management of Rare and Declining Habitats standard we have provided opportunities to re-establish clam and oyster beds.

Action item: If there is an interest in aquaculture, convene a sub-committee to discuss how we can outreach to aquaculture producers and what resource concerns and needs can be addressed through NRCS conservation practices.

Farmland of Local Importance Meeting Update - Rich Shaw

NRCS has a leadership role of determining farmland of local importance. A meeting was convened to look at what criteria should be used to add soils to the list. Essentially, we want to make sure that the map unit being proposed is important to agriculture. We checked with other states for how the processes were handled. We will be adding the list and procedures to the website. During the review, a new map unit was approved for Salem County to be added to the list. Sixty percent of the map unit is in agriculture.

Food Security Act Policies for New Jersey (Wetlands/HEL) - Christine Hall

Christine asked for volunteers for a sub-committee to come up with NJ NRCS policies as related to Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetland determinations and Food Security Act policies. Betsy McShane and Christine Hall will be working on developing and reviewing the policies. The NRCS National Office provides overall policy guidance and states may customize some provisions to adequately address the local resources there.

Action Item: Anyone interested in participating in a subcommittee to review these polices should contact Christine Hall.

Open Discussion

Raj Sinha asked about livestock participants. What types of practices are we trying to promote? Christine Hall mentioned that anything related to the storage and handling of manure, prescribed grazing, livestock exclusion from streams, pasture management, nutrient management, etc. are all practices that can be funded for livestock participants. We would like to provide water quality and air quality benefits by reaching out to livestock producers. There is also funding for Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP). A CNMP plan (or comparable plan) would need to be developed before storage and handling facilities could be funded. Funding assistance through EQIP for CNMP plan development is not competitive and funding is guaranteed for eligible producers.

It was also suggested that NRCS coordinate with the Ag Mini Grants program for outreaching to livestock operations. Several watersheds are targeted to promote conservation with livestock operations. Dave Clapp mentioned that it is important to promote livestock compliance with the new animal waste rules. If they are issued a fine or violation, they are no longer eligible for these programs. It is best to be proactive as there are real penalties and fines.

Kristina Heinemann announced that EPA will be formally proposing the Waters of the US rule. It will be out for comment soon. It is undergoing interagency review now. The rule will provide clarity and reduce the administrative burden. It will not change anything in the jurisdiction under the federal Clean Water Act.

The NJ Land Trust Rally is coming up on March 22 at the Busch Campus at Rutgers.

Audrey Moore announced that EPA will be putting out a fact sheet soon for “Farm Workers and Pesticides”

NJ will host the 2014 Bob White Technical Committee.

Next meeting Date:

The summer meeting has been a tour the last few years. Last year we had it at Duke Farms, the year before we were in Cumberland County, and prior to that we were in the Hackettstown area. We will be looking for another place to have it. If you have any ideas, please let Christine Hall know.

Date, Location, and time will be announced later.

If the turn-out for future meetings is as large as today, we will need to find another place to meet. Suggestions were: Wharton State Park, Eco Complex, Monmouth County Extension, Duke Coach Barn, Somerset Extension, Mercer Extension, and the Mercer County Park Boat House.

Carrie thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and adjourned at 1:15 pm.


Acronyms
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ACEP - Agricultural Conservation Enhancement Program
ALE - Agricultural Land Easement
AMA – Agricultural Management Assistance Program
AWEP – Agricultural Water Enhancement Program
CAP – Conservation Activity Plan
CCPI – Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative
CIG – Conservation Innovation Grant
CRP – Conservation Reserve Program
CREP - Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
CStP – Conservation Stewardship Program
EQIP – Environmental Quality Incentive Program
FRPP – Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program
GRP – Grassland Reserve Program
HFRP – Healthy Forest Reserve Program
NIPF – non industrial private forestland
RCPP- Regional Conservation Partnership Program
SAFE – State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement
TSP- Technical Service Provider
WHIP – Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program
WLFW – Working Lands for Wildlife
WRE - Wetlands Reserve Easements
WRP – Wetlands Reserve Program