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July 24, 2008

State Technical Committee Meeting Minutes

DATE: July 24, 2008

TIME: 9:00 a.m.

PLACE: Metro Tech, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

PRESENT: Jim Reese, Farm Service Agency
J.D. Strong, OSE
Mike Thralls, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Roy Lee Lindsey, OPC
Van Kozak, EPA
Tim Herfel, EPA
Mike Bira, EPA
Scott Stine, EPA
Robert Gregory, Land Legacy
Jacob Moor, Land Legacy
Ericka McPherson, Oklahoma Farm Bureau
Tim Bartram, Oklahoma Wheat Growers
Francie Tolle, American Farmers & Ranchers
Ray West, TMUA
Jeff Crosby, Land Legacy
Larry Hensley, Oklahoma Grazing Lands
Mike Sams, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Terry Dupree, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Erik Bartholamew, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Wadell Altom, Noble Foundation
Rod Wanger, Farm Service Agency
Luke Bell, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
John Hendrix, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Jamie Doyal, Farm Service Agency
Trent Holland, Cherokee Nation
David Porter, Oklahoma State University
George Geissler, OK Forestry Services
John Burwell, ODAFF, Forestry Services
Shanon Phillips, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Dan Butler, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Brian Boettger, Vance Air Force Base
Aaron Betts, USDA – WS
Steve Thompson, ODAFF
Kara Williams, OK Office of the Secretary o the Environment
Barth Crouch, Playa Lakes Joint Venture
Charlie Colvin, 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 stated that he appreciates everyone taking time to attend. All attendees introduced themselves to the group.

2. Farm Bill Update – Lanny Miller, NRCS
Lanny stated that there is a provisionary process for the Farm Bill, and rule making is underway. On May 22, 2008, the Farm Bill (Food, Conservation and Energy Act) became law in 15 of the 16 titles. Everything for conservation passed at that time.

The new Farm Bill increases funding, focusing on agriculture and forestry. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) will be expanded, and there will be a Conservation Stewardship Program offered in 2009. For WRP, there is a change in the appraisal process, and Lanny sees the changes in the Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP) as good opportunities to expand this program. Conservation Technical Assistance is provided without cost; it is not a financial assistance program. The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) will now replace the Ground and Surface Water Conservation Program.

EQIP: Funding levels will be increased by 3.4 billion dollars over the next 10 years. There will be a forestry emphasis, forestry management. An emphasis will also be placed on air quality practices, and there is specific information on assistance with conservation practices utilized for organic production and transition. Mike Thralls asked how organic production will be defined, and Lanny replied that we will have to wait for the rule-making process to conclude. For limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and beginning farmers or ranchers, they will receive up to 90% cost-share or at least 25% above the otherwise applicable rates, and advance payments to cover up to 30% of the cost of materials to install conservation improvements. The term “socially disadvantaged” will also need to be defined. Lanny stated that he hopes the group can meet again after October when the rules are finalized. Payment limitations for EQIP are now $300,000 per person over a six-year period; the amount was $450,000 in the last Farm Bill. However, up to $450,000 per person over a six-year period may be authorized for projects of environmental significance.

Lanny presented several slides detailing EQIP funding projected from fiscal year 2008 – 2012, EQIP obligations and contracts by year, and EQIP dollars per contract. He stated that funding in the amount of $3.22 million dollars was received a couple of weeks ago to obligate by the end of August, and the average contract amount is $15,000. He also discussed the top 16 applied practices between 2002-2008 which follow along the state priorities set: Brush Management, Irrigation, Pasture & Hay Planting, Grade Stabilization Structures, etc. A slide was also provided that listed the 2008 statewide concerns and funding spent for each concern. Lanny reported that applications are on hand to fund $133,000 for these concerns, and additional funding has been requested.

The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) replaces the Ground and Surface Water Conservation Program (GSWC). This program offers financial and technical help to assist farmers and ranchers install or implement conservation practices for agricultural water quality enhancement activities. AWEP will be limited to Cimarron, Texas, and Beaver counties.

The Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program was reauthorized in the Farm Bill. The emphasis for this program is on efficient and effective transfer of innovative technologies and approaches and increased participation of specialty crop producers.
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP): NRCS works closely with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and their four technicians to deliver this program. An allocation of $726,000 was received for WHIP. There was a very quick signup, and Lanny commented that NRCS appreciates ODWC’s assistance in delivering the program. The annual payment limitation for WHIP is $50,000.

Lanny then discussed the private land protection programs: Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP). The HFRP is not available in Oklahoma at this time. FRPP provides matching funds to help state, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses. There are a lot of changes within this program, and NRCS is working with Land Legacy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Norman Area Land Conservancy on this program. The GRP is a program that is shared between NRCS and the Farm Service Agency, and the program assists landowners to restore and protect grassland, rangeland, pastureland, shrub land, and certain other lands, and provides assistance for restoration. The majority of GRP contracts are in the northeast and central northeast part of the state; however rental agreements are across the state.

Lanny also discussed the land retirement programs: Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). For CRP, NRCS assists FSA with technical assistance as FSA administers this program. For WRP, NRCS employs a Program Specialist, Steve Barner, who monitors this program from a technical aspect. A Coordination Meeting is held monthly with ODWC, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited (DU), and NRCS to discuss management of the program. WRP is a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based program that helps private landowners, farmers, and ranchers protect and restore wetlands on their property. The new Farm Bill changed the process for easement compensation, and prohibits enrollment of land in easements where ownership has changed during the previous 7 years. NRCS has a Cooperative Agreement with DU for restoration assistance.

The Conservation Stewardship Program was previously named the Conservation Security Program. This program is limited to certain watersheds, and has been authorized through 2017. There was no funding appropriated for 2008, and participation has been very slow in all states; there are only 108 applications in Oklahoma. Lanny provided information regarding CSP funding and contracts by year.

Lanny commented that there will be specific set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. He also stated that individuals or entities are eligible to participate in conservation programs if their average non-farm AGI is less than $1,000,000, or 2/3 of the average total AGI is from farming, ranching, or forestry. This provision is not in effect until fiscal year 2009. Lanny provided that most rules are to be completed in 90 days.

Mike Thralls asked if NRCS anticipates the CSP signup will be across the nation, and Lanny stated that the signup will be opened statewide with a ranking system established. He commented that it is unknown, but there may be 10 year contracts. Robert Gregory asked about pending FRPP projects and whether the new rules will apply and if yellow book appraisals are still required. Lanny said NRCS will need to wait to see what the rules say, and as this is a transition period, we do not know yet.
3. Watersheds – Mike Thralls, OCC

Ron Hilliard stated that watersheds are a big issue, and there has been a lot of work accomplished through efforts of the Conservation Districts with funding from the federal government with a state match. Ron asked that Mike Thralls report on this topic.

Mike Thralls reported that watershed dams have played a major role in the last few years. Most of the dams were built to low hazard specifications and now the requirement is for a high hazard dam. There are 190 flood control dams in that classification, and 10 or 12 have been rebuilt. Last year, $6.5 million was appropriated by the legislature to be matched by federal monies, and $25 million was received this year. $8.8 of this funding went to rehabilitation.

4. State Manure Transfer, OCC

Dan Butler discussed the manure transfer program for poultry manure (litter) to move it out of the Illinois and Eucha Spavinaw Rivers. A subsidy was provided and $480,000 was distributed in nearly four years of the program. $300,000 went in about 6 months, and the last $100,000 was gone in less than 10 days, so the market is there. Dan commented that there is a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus in litter, and some farmers now see it as a better deal as fertilizer costs also went up. More people want it than there is a supply. OCC’s program was established to develop a market for this with funds provided by EPA and the State of Oklahoma. They began subsidizing the haulers, but some farmers wanted to use their own trucks. NRCS paid funds to the buyer for litter, and OCC went to this model so there is now more general contentment with this program. Van Kozak asked about the cost of fuel, and the reply was that it has not gone as high as the cost of fertilizer. Mike Thralls commented that fertilizer that cost $300/ton is now $1100/ton, so fertilizer costs have tripled. OCC is decreasing the rate to wean people away from government subsidies.

Dan also discussed the CREP that OCC is developing in the Illinois River and Eucha Spavinaw area. 80 acres with 10 landowners are under contract awaiting FSA’s approval. There are 1184 acres involved in OCC’s part of contracting with 15 landowners. They will pay 150% of the rental rate, and 3 counties are involved at $42-$44/acre. Landowners do not believe this is enough money, and the state of Arkansas is paying 300% of the rental rate. OCC is trying to modify the agreement and ask for that amount also. Payments will be made on a per acre/per year basis for 10-15 years. Each state negotiates the terms of the agreement with FSA. OCC will meet tomorrow with NRCS and FSA to discuss practices. Another application is the Municipal Lake in Elk City, a recreational lake that wants to get their bacteria numbers down and protect the riparian areas. Elk City will provide the non-federal match.

5. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and FSA Programs, Rod Wanger, FSA

Rod Wanger stated that the Farm Service Agency’s summer, 2008, newsletter is available to attendees as a handout. He discussed the CRP Mid Contract Management (MCM) Issue which involves required management at some point in the contract period. In 2008, participants with re-enrolled CRP were required to do MCM the first year if rolled over to a new contract period. There were a few complaints regarding mowing, burning, and nutrient management. Regarding the time period to complete, if native grass and a rollover, they would have to complete in the first and sixth years; if a new contract, the sixth year. For introduced grass, the requirement is for the fourth and seventh years. Due to fuel prices, at the next meeting this issue may need to be discussed to decide on the number of times during a contract the participant should be required to complete the MCM. In addition, Rod reported that some participants believe the burn period is too short. He stated they may consider all year the burn period, excluding the nesting season, and may consider a green burn also. Also, if hayed or grazed, that may be allowed to count as a management activity.

Rod also reported on a Secretarial Natural Disaster Determination for drought for nine counties which makes them available for emergency loans. He commented that a lot of producers had to sell their cattle. There has also been a Presidential Major Disaster Designation due to winter storms, tornadoes, and flooding. A Secretarial Designation is an Ag designation; a Presidential Designation occurs when a municipality has had the events occur and FEMA is involved. The Presidential Designation can also allow producers to get emergency loans.

In 2007, the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) was approved due to ice storms and floods to clean up debris and repair fences. In 2008, ECP had $13 million in requests due to wildfires and tornadoes. $89 million was recently appropriated for ECP, but the funding has not been received.

Rod discussed the CRP Critical Feed Use; there are 182,526 acres currently enrolled for CFU. Rod stated there is a temporary restraining order preventing this program from continuing, but a decision is to be made soon in federal court.

Rod reported the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Program (SAFE) was started in 2006 in the northwest Oklahoma counties. He stated that about the time the program was on the ground, crop prices went up, so as a result there are only 544 acres currently enrolled in Harper and Woodward counties. Oklahoma is allotted 15,100 acres. This program involves a 15 year contract and a signup incentive.

Rod also mentioned Disaster Payments, the Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Compensation Program, Crop Disaster Program, and Dairy Disaster Assistance Program. He stated that the Quality Loss Crop Disaster Program is dependent upon whether the producer had crop insurance or NAP to be eligible. He stated that September 30, 2008, is the signup deadline for 2008 DCP contracts, and reported that the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payment Program (SURE) covers crop losses due to natural disasters. The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) will assist with a payment for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality and due to adverse weather as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture. The Livestock Feed Assistance Program (LFP) will be available to producers who suffered grazing losses for eligible livestock due to drought or fire. Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) is intended to provide emergency relief to producers of livestock, honey bees, and farm-raised fish because of losses from adverse weather or other conditions, such as blizzards, and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary. The Tree Assistance Program (TAP) was reauthorized to provide assistance to orchardists and eligible nursery tree growers because of a natural disaster. Rod stated the Farm Stored Facility Loan program was a $100,000 maximum, 7 year loan period, but will now be a $500,000 maximum loan for a 12 year period.

Rod provided that the cap for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will be reduced to 32 million beginning in 2010; the cropping requirement will be 2002-2007, and new AGI and PL provisions will apply. He also stated that the Milk Income Loss Program was reauthorized for 2008 through 2012. Mike Sams commented that weight should be given to CRP expiring contracts in the GRP valuation process, and Rod commented that with the cap reduction for CRP, contracts will be directed to GRP.

6. Closing Remarks - Ron Hilliard

Lanny Miller asked the group to send any comments to him or Ron Hilliard. He stated the members of this group are encouraged to provide input, and that the process (comment period) will go in the Federal Register. NRCS will send out this information, and will meet with this group again in the fall.

Ron thanked the group for their attendance and the meeting was adjourned.

Last Reviewed/Modified: 11/18/2009

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