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October 3, 2007

State Technical Committee Meeting Minutes

DATE: October 3, 2007

TIME: 9:00 a.m.

PLACE: Metro Tech, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

PRESENT: Larry Poindexter, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Larry Hensley, Oklahoma Grazing Lands
Dan Butler, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Willard Tillman, Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project
Charlie Colvin, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Julie Cunningham, OK Water Resource Board
Kathryn Bolay, OK Pork Council
Phillip Moershel, OK Water Resource Board
Ruseal Brewer, Department of Agriculture
Terry Detrick, American Farmers & Ranchers
Wadell Altom, Noble Foundation
Clay Pope, OACD
Russ Horton, ODWC
Ben Pollard, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
David Porter, OSU
John Hendrix, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Mike Thralls, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Marla Peek, OK Farm Bureau
J.T. Winters, OK Wheat Growers
John Weir, OSU
Jeff Crosby, Land Legacy
Brant Cole, Congressman Boren’s Office
Kelley Brown, OK Rural Water Association
Chongo Mundende, Langston University
Rod Wanger, Farm Service Agency
Suzanne Collier, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Dick Zetterberg, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Lanny Miller, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Ron Hilliard, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Joni Mustain, Natural Resources Conservation Service

1. Meeting Called to Order – Ron Hilliard, Chairman

Ron Hilliard welcomed the group and mentioned an upcoming conference, the Governor’s Water Conference, will be held on October 10th He stated that watershed programs are on a downhill slide, and there is a lot of interest congressionally about these programs.. He stated that watershed programs are on a downhill slide, and there is a lot of interest congressionally about these programs.

2. Farm Bill Program Overview and Conservation Priorities for 2008 – Lanny Miller, NRCS

Lanny introduced himself to the group. He stated he has worked for thirty years; he started in 1979 after graduating from Oklahoma State University. He worked as a Soil Conservationist in Alva, then at Tulsa for six months, and then went back to Alva as the District Conservationist. He then worked in the Technical Service Office in Perry for six years, and part of that time was spent on the Programs Staff in the State Office. He then worked three years on the Programs Staff, and then was the Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations in the southwest part of the state for three years, supervising nineteen field offices. He now has the opportunity to replace Kevin Norton as the Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, and introduced the Programs Staff: Joni Mustain, Program Assistant, whose primary duties include responsibility for the administrative activities for the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) easements; Suzanne Collier, Resource Conservationist, whose primary duties include responsibility for the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), GRP rental agreements, the Conservation Reserve Program, and Customer Service Toolkit; Dick Zetterberg, Resource Conservationist, who primary duties include responsibility for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). Lanny commented that he has a great staff who will continue to do good work. Lanny stated that Kevin Norton transferred to Louisiana to become the NRCS State Conservationist there. Lanny stated this will be a very informal meeting, and that his door is always open. He said that he will not make a lot of changes in implementing programs as he has the same philosophy that Kevin had. Lanny commented that he is looking forward to working with this group, and to please feel free to ask him questions at any time. Lanny then provided an overview of Programs: Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): Over 1 million acres are currently enrolled in this program. There is no General Signup this year, but the Continuous Signup is available for buffer-related practices. A CREP project is underway in Spavinaw Creek and the Illinois River/Lake Tenkiller. There is continued emphasis on the Continuous Signup, and CP35 activity is increasing. Managed haying and grazing plans are being requested from NRCS, and there is re-enrollment for saline soils seeps (CP18b and CP18c). Conservation Security Program (CSP): Lanny, Mark Conkling, Brandy Pietz-Jones, and Dick Zetterberg recently traveled to Indianapolis to discuss the CSP. There are seven Oklahoma watersheds currently in the CSP. There has been no official announcement for a CSP Signup, but could be a potential signup in the near future, possibly in early 2008. The Upper Washita Watershed has been proposed as a future watershed, and a very large signup is anticipated for this watershed. GRP: There was a signup for limited resource and beginning farmers; four states participated< including Oklahoma. We received > 150 applications and planned 70 applications; some landowners declined. Forty-eight contracts were approved in the southeast part of the state encompassing 9,528 acres for $1.4 million. There was excellent outreach by NRCS and FSA to get the word out about this signup. FRPP: Since the last meeting, 3 more easements were acquired with 196 acres and over$0.5 million. NRCS contributed $205,000. Ten total easements have been acquired to date with 991 acres, and a total cost of $3.5 million. WHIP: WHIP is offered statewide, and the priority is for overall habitat quality improvement. WHIP is supported in program delivery by ODWC through a contributions agreement with four full-time ODWC technicians working on the program. This is a popular program with over 400 applications on the backlog annually, and 70-100 applications per year are funded. There is no funding authority for WHIP at this time for FY 2008; the future of the program is dependent upon the allocation received. WRP: Discussions nationally are that all easement programs may be rolled into one easement type program. At present, the program is offered statewide, with 195 easements for 48,387 acres and 48 restoration agreements with 9,683 acres enrolled. Over 38,000 acres on these contracts have had initial restoration completed. NRCS has a Cooperative Agreement in place with Ducks Unlimited (DU) that began in 2000 for restoration assistance. DU completes approximately 2/3 of the restoration work for WRP contracts. There is no funding or authority to conduct the program at this time. The Red Slough is the largest project in Oklahoma and one of the largest in the nation. The Drummond Flats site is a very large valuable project which the Oklahoma Wildlife Department is also working on. There are issues with the yellow book appraisal process, but we will not hear anymore about this issue until the new Farm Bill is authorized. Lanny also provided an update on conservation payments for FY 2007: 50% of the total payments in Oklahoma were made for CRP; EQIP was next, with CSP third. Payments made (including CRP) totaled $71 million; less CRP (NRCS programs) totaled $35 million. Technical Assistance Funding for FY 2007 was $29.5 million. Conservation technical assistance and conservation planning are the bread and butter of the agency. Financial Assistance Funding in FY 2007 totaled $81.9 million. Conservation Priorities – Oklahoma: Conservation priorities for the state are:Invasive brush on rangeland (eastern red cedar); Surface Water Quality; Classic Gully Erosion on Rangeland; Sheet and Rill Erosion on Cropland, Streambank Erosion; and Irrigation Water Management. Lanny stated that this group’s input is needed regarding the priorities for Oklahoma. EQIP will continue with local emphasis areas, and tribes and underserved communities will continue to be worked with. We will look more at a performance – based funding allocation for the state and give additional opportunities to address the workload. Lanny stated that this is his third week on the job; if he has an error, let him know. Rod Wanger asked where the no-till incentive fits in, and Lanny responded with sheet and rill erosion on cropland, but it could also have consideration with irrigation water management. Rod stated that counties that produced no-till had less impact during the hurricane/wet weather that affected the state, and Lanny replied that we have counties that are concentrating on no-till and this needs to be a priority. Clay Pope stated that less than 40% of Kingfisher county farms are no-till, and Lanny replied that we need to utilize every opportunity with EQIP to emphasize no-till. Rod Wanger stated that we need to provide education, and there are still some no-till clinics being held. Lanny commented that we are working with OSU to be involved with no-till workshops across the state; and Mike Thralls stated that the Oklahoma Conservation Commission is working with OSU and RC&D on this issue. Lanny stated that no-till is being promoted through RC&D. Ron stated that a conference was held yesterday with national headquarters regarding the Continuous Resolution, and Lanny stated this resolution will be in place until November 16. Only two programs we really have funding to service are EQIP and CSP, and NRCS has received funding to make payments. NRCS can service existing programs’ contracts through TA funds, but staff cannot promote and push programs that we do not have funding for. The Chief wants us to implement the EQIP program by end of December, and new funds will be rolled into the new Farm Bill Program. A comment was made that education is really important for the no-till, and Lanny replied that we are promoting it, but until landowners experience it, they will not do it. Another comment was made that there needs to be face-to-face contact with someone who is doing it, and go out on their land and see it. Lanny commented that it takes several years for the system to build up. Mike Thralls stated that the rate of adoption is increasing each year for no-till, and that at workshops we should have the person doing these no-till systems speak first to tell what he is doing as there is tremendous interest in this. OSU has a crop rotation specialist/equipment person that promotes no-till. Lanny stated that we need this group’s input on all issues, and want to keep this an open forum. He told the group to please e-mail or call the Programs Staff if you have comments or suggestions. Ron stated that we could put together some CIG grants in Oklahoma, and will set up something in very near future for this.

3. Practice Payment Schedule – Suzanne Collier, NRCS Suzanne stated that NRCS has developed practice payment schedules and payment rates, and the reasons to do this are: (1) to document that NRCS conservation program FA payments are “green box” compliance for WTO treaty purposes; and (2) to document the basis for excluding conservation program FA payments from adjusted gross income for tax payment purposes. The internal objectives are: (1) to streamline the process; (2) to eliminate the uncertainty about the amount of financial assistance a producer will receive; and (3) to increase the use of program neutral cost data during the NRCS planning process. NRCS put together a team of technical people to work on this, and produced three sets of products: (1) eFOTG Section 1 Cost Data; (2) Payment Schedules; and (3) Practice Payment Rates. Cost Data was broken down into categories: materials, equipment, labor, mobilization, etc., and they looked at typical implementation scenarios. The cost data is program neutral, and has been placed in Section 1 of the eFOTG. The cost data was used to develop a Payment Rate for each practice/activity type. Cost-share payments are limited to 50% (75% for some high priority state practices). This process was a huge workload for Technical staff, State Office staff, and Programs staff to develop the statewide payment list. Major changes from Cost Lists are that there are now 3 distinct products: 1) Program Neutral Practice Cost Data; 2) Practice Payment Schedules; and 3) Practice Payment Rates (by program). The group met with the State Technical sub-committee to inform them of the process. Suzanne asked this group to please let us know if there are discrepancies or adjustments that need to be made as it is hoped the final form will be in place by the end of the week for use in FY 2008. Lanny stated that NRCS is trying to simplify the process for the client; and he appreciates the technical group that worked on this project: engineers, resource specialists, the Ecological Sciences staff, Dick, and Suzanne.

4. Litter Transfer – Dan Butler, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Dan Butler spoke to the group about the Litter Transfer Program and provided a handout entitled, “Determining Potential Eligibility and Applicant Certification”. Dan stated this is limited to poultry litter, and the original grant ran out six months ago. He said they emulated the EQIP Manure Transfer program, and producers buy and arrange for transportation themselves and then apply for the subsidy. This program will be run through conservation districts, and there is a maximum of $10,000/year program funds per contract, paying 5 cents ton/mile. The primary objective is to get the litter out of the Eucha/Spavinaw & Illinois River Watersheds. The litter must be applied to a field with a current soil test (within 3 years). Fields with a soil test phosphorous index greater than 120 are not eligible. Marla Peek asked if there is a statutory basis for that number, and Dan replied no; however, it is a source of a lot of contention. It was commented that the NRCS 590 Standard does not say 120, and state law is tied to the 590 standard. There are concerns with what is being done and what state law says. The land unit where the litter is applied must be greater than 10 miles from the nutrient source. Larry Hensley asked about the litter test, and if it will come under the Nutrient Management Plan? Dan replied that yes, and there is a backlog to get a Nutrient Management Plan. He stated that if they have applied for the plan, and the litter has been sent for analysis, they will be ok for this year. Marla stated that she agrees with this, but asked if it is contrary to state law. Mike Thralls stated they did consult with the state, and it is ok as long as there is a soil test and it is outside the nutrient limited watersheds. Dan commented that no animal wastes may be applied on forest, grazed forest, grazed range, and/or native or naturalized pasture under these incentive payments. Dan provided a list of what farm operators need to take to the Conservation District office for payment of the poultry litter transfer subsidy: 1) photocopy of current soil test of the field where litter is to be applied; 2) photocopy of the litter applicator’s license; 3) photocopies of certified scales weigh tickets of loaded weight and empty weight of all trucks used to transport litter; 4) certification that a current CNMP for the fields where litter is to be applied in on file with the district; 5) legal location, lat/long OR street address of the origin of the litter; 6) photocopy of hauler’s bill to purchaser showing mileage hauled. A question was asked regarding where to obtain an applicator’s license, and the reply was that it is obtained from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. You may be able to get the individual applicator’s license somewhere else in the state, but Dan was not sure about the commercial applicator’s license.

5. Manure Transfer – Richard Zetterberg, NRCS Dick Zetterberg commented that he is glad the Conservation Commission’s litter transfer program is similar to NRCS’s in order to cut down on confusion regarding the program. There were changes in 2007 because a lot of offices in western Oklahoma had large workloads and nothing was approved for that part of the state, so the area eligible was cut off to eastern Oklahoma, east of I-35. An application received more points if the destination of litter is Zone A, and more contracts were approved there. In 2007, 33 contracts were obligated, in 2006, 6 contracts were obligated, and 24 contracts in 2005. For FY 2008, the program is only available in eastern Oklahoma. The maximum amount is $25,000; last year it was $20,000. An application will not be ranked without a soil test for where it is going, and we must have the soil test by the end of the signup. An application receives points for where the litter is going; points for the soil test; and points for the type of land use. Litter has to come from nutrient limited watersheds, and litter has to be applied in Oklahoma although litter may come from Arkansas. John Hendrix asked if the litter is going to pasture and cropland, and Dick replied that it is going to both. Marla Peek asked how this works as there is a cap on how much the state will allow for this, and are 319 or state-appropriated funds being used? Dan replied that it depends on the amount of the grant, and when grant funds are depleted, the program is finished. He also stated that this year, they are using 319 funds, last time it was a mixture. Dan stated there are very detailed maps on their website if you want to see where these watersheds are. Mike Thralls stated that the Conservation Commission has been talking to legislators and government officials about this unusual year with the amount of rain received. There is damage to structures around the state, flood control structures, and 24 auxiliary spillways were damaged. He said we may not get FEMA funding for this. We came close to losing one flood control dam, and would like to offer producers assistance ($29 million request), but will refine this number as work is done with FSA NRCS, etc. to determine the amount needed. He said they will explore rainy day funds for emergency funds for this. Clay Pope says the damages provide an unusual situation as the infrastructure must be repaired. There was a huge amount of rain in May all through the state except for a small area in southeast Oklahoma. Two-thirds of the farm ponds are gone in Kingfisher County, and an amazing amount of terraces were washed out. A dam was almost blown out, and seven homes below the dam were evacuated. Clay stated that any assistance on this will be appreciated.

6. Program Updates – Rod Wanger, FSA Rod Wanger stated that the Livestock Compensation Program and Livestock Indemnity Program are available, and the signup begins for the Crop Disaster Program on October 15th. Conservation Reserve Program payments were released today (the authority for), and DCP will be released on October 9th. $135,000 is going out to producers. The Emergency Conservation Program was approved for several counties, and there are approximately 700-800 applications in Blaine County, and 1,800 applications in Caddo County. Rod has Fact Sheets for these programs available for the group. 7. Closing Remarks, Ron Hilliard, NRCS Ron stated that education for landowners is very important! As Ron has seen in the six different states he has worked in, things change, chemicals change, and we need to work together to educate landowners. Ron commented that if there are any meetings you want NRCS to attend or speak at, please let us know. Willard Tillman commented that on Saturday, November 16th and 17th, there is a Small Farms Conference in Wewoka, Oklahoma, from 9:00-5:00. A group of delegates from Washington, D.C., will attend and provide an update on the Farm Bill. Ron thanked Mr. Cole from Congressman Boren’s Office for attending this meeting. Mr. Cole said he is uneducated on most of these issues, so he is glad to hear about what is going on in the state in order to take them back to the Congressman in the event there is anything his office can do. Mr. Cole is from Claremore, and will be glad to assist; he appreciates the invitation to attend. A member of the group commented that it was brought up at the National Wheat Growers Board Meeting that people received funds for damages from hurricanes, and our producers should have the same opportunity for funding needed for repairs due to the recent floods. There is a resolution to address this, and Marla Peek stated that this may take a lot of work, but hopefully we can get Congressional support. John Hendrix commented that for the wildlife help on farm ponds, they might be able to help. Ron stated there is a complete change in Washington D.C. regarding small watersheds. NRCS was told two years ago to dismantle the watershed programs and staff; however, there are 1,143 structures (all but 13 in Oklahoma) in the Washita Watershed covering a half million acres. 300+ structures are over their lifespan and need to be relooked at; there will be over 1,000 in ten years. A comment was made that programs to help producers and the land are needed as all producers are independent businesses that must be kept in production so they can apply the practices to conserve resources and produce the products we have. Ron thanked the group for their attendance and the meeting was adjourned.

Last Reviewed/Modified: 11/18/2009

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