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October 27, 2009

State Technical Committee Meeting Minutes

DATE: October 27, 2009

TIME: 9:00 a.m.

PLACE: Metro Tech, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

PRESENT: Melinda Thompson, FSA
Rod Wanger, FSA
Larry Hensley, OGLCA
Brad Lamb, EPA
Jason Warren, OSU
Hugh Afjoe, Noble Foundation
Kurt Atkinson, ODAFF, Forestry Services
Ray West, TMUA
Wadell Altom, Noble Foundation
Ben Southerland, Norman Land Conservancy
John Hendrix, USFWS
Trent Holland, Cherokee Nation
Roy Lee Lindsey, OK Pork Council
Kinsey Money, OK Farm Bureau
Lyntha N. Wesner, Norman Area Land Conservancy
George Thomas, BLM
Francie Tolle, FSA
Ross Huffman, NWTF
Shanon Phillips, OCC
Stacy Hansen, OCC
Jean Steiner, USDA-ARS
Mike Sams, ODWC
Terry Detrick, AFR
Scott Dewald, OCA
Junior Welch, ORWA
Jeannie Anthony, ORWA
Tim Bartram, OWGA
Jeff Crosby, Land Legacy
Nathan Johnson, DU
Dwayne Elmore, OSU
Ben Pollard, OCC
Kenneth Hitch, NRCS
Melanie Oliver, NRCS
Suzanne Collier, NRCS
Scott Schneider, NRCS
Richard Zetterberg, NRCS
Ron Hilliard, NRCS
Joni Mustain, NRCS

AGENDA with links to Associated Topics in the Minutes

9:00 am – 9:15 am    Welcome                                            
Ron Hilliard, NRCS    Introductions
                                   Opening Remarks

9:15 am – 10:00 am             Outlook for Programs in 2010                   
Richard Zetterberg, NRCS    Environmental Quality Incentives
                                                Program (EQIP) State Priorities for 2010,
                                                & EQIP Statewide Funding Pools for 2010

10:00 – 10:15 am                EQIP, WHIP & CSP Update
Kenneth Hitch, NRCS         Environmental Quality Incentives Program,
                                            Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, &
                                            Conservation Stewardship Program Update

10:15 am – 10:30 am         Wetlands Reserve Program Update
Melanie Oliver, NRCS

10:30 - 10:45 am              Break

10:45 am – 11:15 am             GRP, FRPP, & HFRP Update
Suzanne Collier, NRCS         Grassland Reserve Program,
                                                Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program &
                                                Healthy Forest Reserve Program Update        

11:15 am – 11:45 am              Bio Mass Crop Assistance Program
Rod Wanger, FSA                 
Confirmation of CRP Managed Haying &
Grazing Frequencies                                     

11:45 am – 12:00 pm              Closing Remarks
Ron Hilliard, NRCS                  Questions/Comments

Minutes from the Meeting

1.      Meeting Called to Order – Ron Hilliard, NRCS, Chairman

 Ron Hilliard welcomed the group and introduced the NRCS Programs staff as new staff members have been added to the Programs Section.  Ron also introduced the new Farm Service Agency State Executive Director, Francie Tolle.  All attendees introduced themselves to the group. <Back to agenda>

2.      Outlook for Programs in 2010, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) State Priorities for 2010, & EQIP Statewide Funding Pools for 2010 – Richard Zetterberg, NRCS

Richard Zetterberg stated that funding for programs will continue to be as it has been with the exception of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) for which there will be an opportunity to expand the program.  He informed the group that the CSP program is under a different name:  the Conservation Stewardship Program instead of the previous name of Conservation Security Program.  The program will now have two ranking cutoff periods, and is now offered statewide instead of by watershed.

Richard stated that for EQIP, there is a push from headquarters to have as many local funding pools as possible.  Cropland applications will be ranked against other cropland applications and applications will be ranked against similar resource concerns.  There are mostly local fund codes in Oklahoma (about 200), and only 7 or 8 of those would be considered statewide.  Brad Lamb asked if there will still be an emphasis on local-driven EQIP LEAs.  Richard replied yes, that Oklahoma has always run the program with local criteria and it will not change that much.  Richard stated that statewide priorities for AFO/CAFO, irrigation, organic, and historically underserved will continue.  Rod Wanger asked if a county wants to control red cedar, would their funding be increased to do this as it is a statewide concern.  Richard stated that NRCS is looking more at what a county is able to obligate in contracts, going to something based more on performance.  The Assistant State Conservationists for Field Operations for each zone will have some flex funds to use to allocate for their zone.

Richard then discussed EQIP Priorities for 2010 and stated that a standardized ranking tool is utilized.  He commented that every EQIP application has to consider sheet & rill erosion, irrigation, erosion control on grazing land, cedar control, streambank erosion, surface water – nutrients, organics, and energy conservation.  John Hendrix asked what an example of erosion control would be, and Richard replied that it could be gully erosion on grazingland – cropland converted to grassland with terraces.  Richard stated that last year energy conservation was added as it was mandated by national headquarters (residue and tillage management practices).  Richard asked the group if NRCS is missing anything or if there are any new emerging resource concerns that need to be addressed.  Jean Steiner asked how other invasive species get ranked.  Richard replied that they show up in local rankings in order to get points.  Shanon Phillips commented that NRCS worked with the state previously to address non point source priority watersheds and asked if that plays into EQIP ranking as a priority.  Richard stated he does not believe that issue is included, and Ron Hilliard stated that the issue may go back to the local office where staff could take that issue and ask for an LEA to work in those watersheds.    Richard stated that national questions will now be more specific as well as at the state level so that the application with the most resource concerns will receive the most points.  Jean Steiner asked if there is any movement to monitor what is actually achieved for the program dollars obligated.  Richard replied that the monitoring is done on a large scale, and there is a Conservation Effects Assessment Process that has done a study to assess the effects of conservation programs.  Jean also asked if there is any possibility to look at new practices, vegetative methods, or new methodology.  Richard stated there is an opportunity for Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to promote innovation.  He commented that in order to add a practice, it would have to go through a review process and be added to the Technical Guide.  Jean then asked if there is a national competition for CIG, and Richard stated there is, but that individual states have the option to run a state CIG and he is definitely open to the idea.

Richard also discussed the possibility of terminating the manure transfer statewide funding pool, and asked whether the state is still running their program for this.  A comment was made that the state is evaluating whether to continue their program after this year.  Richard stated the objective is to develop markets away from the watershed, and the actual cost incurred is paid by the ton per mile.  Ray West questioned what trucks are used to get the litter out and if they are empty back haul trucks.  He feels there needs to be an opportunity to get away from the cost of fertilizer as it has gone up.  Richard stated transportation costs are being paid, and this needs to be a viable practice that is continued after EQIP.  A question was asked about protecting ground water, and Richard replied that it has to be applied according to nutrient management standards.  Larry Hensley asked if there is a rule that prohibits cost-share on trucking, and Richard replied that incentive payments are not made anymore.  Larry commented that litter is backed up and a place is needed to store it.  Richard commented that the basic overall EQIP rule is that cost-share payments cannot be made where litter has already been applied.  Ray West stated that it is cheaper to haul it on a back haul truck, and Ron Hilliard stated that NRCS needs to review the manure transfer issue and he would appreciate any kind of input for this complicated issue.  Shanon Phillips stated that the subsidy is to the buyer of manure, and producers have an excess of manure to deal with.  She asked if the payment for managing manure should go to the buyer or to the producer managing it.  Richard stated NRCS may look at coming up with the actual cost for the producer to manage the manure.  Jean Steiner commented that she would like to see a state CIG offered for this purpose either this year or next, and Richard replied that EQIP promotes innovation and it could be possible to put together a state CIG. <Back to agenda>

3.      EQIP, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and CSP Update – Kenneth Hitch, NRCS

Kenneth Hitch stated that EQIP, WHIP, and CSP are voluntary cost-share programs which address concerns set at the local, state, and national level.  EQIP addresses local, multi-county, and statewide concerns.  $20 million dollars was obligated for EQIP in 2009.  One contract most likely addresses more than one concern, and practices receiving the most funding were:  Brush Management, No-Till, Pasture & Hay Planting, Fence, and Grade Stabilization Structure.  A Forestry LEA was set up in 2009 which included four LEAs in southeastern Oklahoma.  About 3,800 acres were planted and prescribed burning was also accomplished.

For WHIP, Kenneth reported that 450 applications were processed in 2009, with 90 contracts obligated at $1.4 million dollars.  The WHIP program is implemented at the state level, and benefits fish & wildlife, plant conditions, and water quality and water quantity.

Kenneth stated that for the 2002 Farm Bill, CSP signups were by watershed, and for the 2008 Farm Bill, there is a nationwide continuous signup.  Kenneth stated there are 382,000 acres in ag lands in Oklahoma, and 19,000 acres of non-industrial private forest lands.  CSP contracts are five-year contracts, and 662 applications were received in 2009.  Ranking cutoffs for CSP applications are September 30th and January 14th, and there are four geographic areas:  Forest Land; Eastern Agricultural Lands; Western Agricultural Lands, and the Panhandle Agricultural Lands.  The priority resource concerns are :  Forest Land:  Plants, Soil Erosion, & Water Quality; Eastern Agricultural Lands: Animal, Plants, Soil Erosion, & Water Quality; Western Agricultural Lands:  Air Quality, Animal, Plants, & Soil Erosion; and Panhandle Agricultural Lands:  Air Quality, Animal, Soil Erosion, and Water Quantity.

Kenneth reported that for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), Oklahoma has two areas (Jackson County and the Panhandle), and $739,581 was obligated for 2009.  This program provides for conservation of surface and ground water and improving water quality on agricultural lands.  Kenneth also reported on the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) for which Oklahoma has one contract with the Kiowa Tribal Conservation District and involves seven counties.  This program may utilize EQIP, WHIP, or CSP programs, and $45,523 was obligated for the contract in 2009.  Kenneth stated this is a good opportunity for someone with a targeted group who has not been involved with these programs.  Larry Hensley asked if operators or owners could apply, and Kenneth replied that only operators are eligible to participate. If FSA has the individual listed as an operator, that is what is utilized, and the operator would need a five-year lease from the date the contract is initiated.  A question was asked if there is a maximum amount a group can apply for, and Kenneth replied that 6% is set aside to be considered from the allocation, and a recommendation is made to the State Conservationist who makes the decision. 

Mike Sams asked a question regarding if a practice becomes more readily accepted, what occurs, and Richard Zetterberg responded that it is decided by the DC and the local workgroup and management practices that are standard for that area are not eligible for EQIP.  Richard also stated that he wanted to acknowledge and thank the Farm Service Agency for their work in getting producers eligible; NRCS definitely appreciates their assistance. <Back to agenda>

4.      Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) – Melanie Oliver, NRCS

Melanie Oliver reported that the WRP provides technical and financial assistance to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands.  There are three categories for enrollment:  Permanent Easements, 30-Year Easements, and 10 Year Restoration Cost-Share Agreements.  Two million acres are enrolled nationally in this program, and the 2008 Farm Bill authorized three million acres to be enrolled.  One million acres need to be enrolled in the next three years.

Melanie stated that Oklahoma is about #13 as far as acres enrolled, with 246 contracts encompassing approximately 54,938 acres.  Thirteen applications were funded in 2009, with 2,775 acres at an approximate cost of $5 million dollars.  Ten applications with 1,964 acres are on the backlog list and have been determined eligible, another seventeen applications are pending field reviews.

NRCS is working on an implementation process to increase enrollment.  The process is mostly a state office workload, but work is being done to make it a smoother process and to include local offices.  Jean Steiner asked if playa areas are eligible, and Melanie replied that they are eligible.  John Hendrix commented that there have been problems getting landowners enrolled in playa areas as the offers have been so low.  Melanie stated that there is a map on the NRCS website that shows hydric soils, and they have to be a disturbed wetland with restoration potential.  Jason Warren asked if the field is classified as hydric, is only that portion plus the buffer enrolled, and Melanie replied yes, and John Hendrix commented that the easement can be adjusted some to take in other considerations. <Back to agenda>

5.   Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), Farm & Ranchlands Protection Program, & Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP) Update – Suzanne Collier, NRCS

Suzanne Collier reported that the HFRP program is new to NRCS in Oklahoma for 2009, and involves five counties:  Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Ottawa, and Sequoyah.  This program is a forestry project for endangered species with the purpose of promoting the recovery of a threatened and endangered species, improving biodiversity, and enhancing carbon sequestration.  Twenty-two applications were received in 2009, encompassing 10,000 acres.  Eight applications were approved for funding with 3,500 acres.  Appraisals will be conducted to determine the easement value, and it is hoped the appraisals will be completed within the next six months.  Suzanne is currently involved with planning and due diligence efforts for the approved applications.

Suzanne stated for GRP, there has been an overwhelming response to an under-funded program.  For 2009, 114 rental contract applications were ranked, and 42 easement applications.  With the ’09 allocation of $1,936,010, two easement applications on 472 acres were obligated as well as eleven rental contracts on 10,150 acres.  The two approved easement applications are in Payne and Haskell counties, and funding is committed for these two purchases.  Per national instruction, 60% of the funding is to be allocated to easements and 40% to rental agreements.  Oklahoma requested a waiver of this requirement for fiscal year ’09.

Suzanne reported that four FRPP easements on 883 acres were acquired in 2009.  To date, Oklahoma has 17 easements, encompassing 1,974 acres.  NRCS partners with three non-governmental organizations to implement FRPP:  Land Legacy, the Norman Area Land Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy.  If not for these partners, this program would not exist.  Easements for this program are to be closed within 18 months, but Oklahoma is at only 7% for this goal, so Oklahoma’s allocation may decrease this fiscal year.  Over the past 6 years Oklahoma has been unable to use nearly 30% of the funding available and this trend continued in fiscal year ’09 as NRCS returned $1.1 million that had been initially allocated.  For ’09, there were two new Cooperative Agreements to fund easements on 360 acres in Osage and Comanche counties.  There is a continuous signup with additional emphasis on the priority of the parcel based on land use and agricultural values.  Previously the categories were prime farmland soils, archaeological significance, and historical site.  The new Farm Bill added state or local policy that furthers the intent of the program.  One area approved for inclusion in FRPP in Oklahoma under this new criteria are designated grassland areas in the Tall Grass Prairie in Osage, Washington, Kay, Nowata and Craig counties.  The program has done a lot of work in the past in the Army Compatible Use Buffer around military installations. This year there has been a request to consider the entire buffer area around military installations, not just the area with prime farmland soils.  Requests and comments on expanding FRPP areas need to be sent in to Ron for consideration.  Jean Steiner asked about islands, past rankings further east where land values and taxes are so high, and Suzanne replied that it depends on what the ag use is – if islands are surrounded by a metropolis.  Ben Pollard asked what an example of a local policy would be, and Suzanne replied that it might be some type of zoning, city ordinance, greenbelt or resource protection plan which had a long-range plan that aligns with the objectives of the FRPP. A question was asked about including lands out west (wind development) being of state or regional importance.  Suzanne stated there would need to be something that shows it is under threat of development and documentation would be needed in order to make it a top priority. <Back to agenda>

6.   Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and Confirmation of CRP Managed Haying & Grazing Frequencies – Rod Wanger, FSA

Rod Wanger, FSA, presented information from the recently completed CRP Managed Haying and Grazing Environmental Assessment (EA).  The EA was completed in response to the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF’s) lawsuit and the State Technical Committee’s desire to continue the one-in-three year CRP Managed Haying and Grazing frequency.  The EA assessed biological resources, water quality, soil resources, air quality, and socio economics of the NWF’s haying and grazing interval versus that desired by the State Technical Committee.  The results found no detrimental impacts of the one-in-three year haying and grazing interval.  The EA required confirmation by the State Technical Committee of their desired interval.  John Hendrix, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, stated the interval supported wildlife benefits and suggested confirmation of the one-in-three year interval.  Terry Detrick, American Farmers and Ranchers, noted the interval was appropriate for Oklahoma.  There were no dissenting comments.  The one-in-three year CRP managed haying and grazing interval (referred to as Alternative “B” in the EA) was confirmed.

Rod provided an update on ECP funds expended, the status of CRP acres in the state, and the status of CRP regulations being developed from the 2008 Farm Bill.  He also discussed the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and encouraged members of the committee to notify him of any facilities that might qualify for the program.  Two biomass conversion facilities have been approved in the state to accept biomass and pay benefits to those delivering biomass products to the facility.  International Paper at Valliant and Bakery Feeds (a division of Griffin Industries) at Watts are the two approved biomass conversion facilities in Oklahoma.  Jason Warren asked if there is a size limitation, and Rod responded there is not.  Rod stated that California already has 40 plants involved, and stated that more policy will be coming regarding this program as there are plans to pay producers to plant the biomass crop.  Jean Steiner asked if the material owner gets a payment, and Rod responded that the person who gathers the product can get paid, but the product can only be paid on one time.  Ben Pollard asked if the rules are out for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and Rod replied that they will not be out until the summer and that new requests are being processed with the current rules. <Back to agenda>

Closing Remarks – Ron Hilliard, NRCS

Ron Hilliard asked Francie Tolle, Farm Service Agency State Executive Director, if she had any comments for the group.  Francie stated that she was appreciative of the opportunity to work with all of the partners on this committee.  She commented on the stimulus funding that FSA received for the FSA Farm Loan Program which was incredibly important to that program as they were able to fund all loans in fiscal year ’09.  She stated that Oklahoma is #2 in the nation for the number of borrowers, and is in the top 10 in other areas.

Ron stated that the Secretary of Agriculture commented that his maps showed lots of dots for Oklahoma as the state received a large amount of stimulus funds.  NRCS hit the $100 million dollar mark in ’09 for watershed programs.  Ben Pollard stated the stimulus program has been great for programs, allowing streambank restoration on the Illinois and Eucha rivers.  John Hendrix commented on programs opportunities and how when the State Technical Committee originated, there were very few programs available.  He stated he appreciates the work done to bring new programs to the state.  Ron asked Jean Steiner if she would chair a workgroup for a state CIG.  Jean agreed to do this, and Ben Pollard of OCC, and Jason Warren of OSU will assist Jean with this effort.

Ron thanked everyone for attending the meeting and is impressed by the various groups represented.  He stated this is not a production organization, but a conservation organization, and that Oklahoma is 3rd or 4th in the nation in the CSP signup with 32 million acres offered.  Ron also told the group to let NRCS or FSA know if they have an event that needs USDA participation. <Back to agenda>

Last Reviewed/Modified: 11/19/2009

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