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June 7, 2016 STC Meeting

NRCS State Technical Committee

10:00am

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Arkansas River Room, Little Rock, AR

 

Meeting called to order by: Amanda Mathis, Assistant State Conservationist for Partnerships, NRCS

Members Present:   Sign in sheet attached.

Welcome and Opening Remarks by Mike Sullivan, Arkansas NRCS State Conservationist

Introductions were made.

State Conservationist Report

  • Arkansas was #1 in financial assistance dollars obligated in FY 15, results in large workload (over 7000 contracts) and currently have ~60 vacancies
  • Discussed the need to carve out time to increase conservation planning upfront and that new NRCS employees had been hired for the sole purpose of conservation planning in NE Arkansas.
  • For FY17 CStP will be overhauled. NRCS had an opportunity to review earlier in the year, provided feedback and will have another opportunity to review soon. Partners will have an opportunity to review in the coming weeks as well- likely a quick turnaround.

Subcommittee Reports:

Energy Report – Walt Delp, NRCS State Conservation Engineer

  • Shanon Griffin will take the lead in the future.
  • Notes from the Sub-Committee Report, May 26, 2016
    • Spray foam insulation was discussed at length in the subcommittee due to it not meeting the standard for fire retardation, NRCS has done the research to find a spray foam to meet those standard.
    • Recommendation- consider Energy ranking question for producers who were unable to have spray foam insulation included in their prior funded contracts but still have need.
    • AgEMP – can only be approved for one energy improvement plan per tax id but producer may have multiple energy sources on multiple operations; propane, natural gas, etc. need flexibility to address operations with one ID that actually have multiple operations with varying energy sources.
    • Design checkout by TSPs was not really embraced by our local TSPs at this point
    • Rural Development has simplified REAP application and they are willing to help producers fill those out and will piggyback on EQIP.

 

Forestry Report – George Rheinhardt, NRCS State Forester

  • Notes from Sub Committee Report, May 10, 2016
    • CRP new initiative to encouraging thinning
    • CRP waivers of mid-management activities in hard woods has been removed, committee is working hard to come up with mid-mgmt practices suitable for hardwood stands.
    • Talked about the Western Arkansas Woodland Restoration Project – map included in the packet - $5.7 million to private landowners thru this project, top practices – prescribed fires, fire breaks, thinning, etc.
    • Approved for another Joint Chief cycle for FY16 – basically the same but includes Oklahoma
    • Discussion was held on low density planting (454) EQIP Statewide Forestry Pool local ranking question #2 and WAWRP ranking question #14 has 481 seeding limit for pine seedling planting.
    • Recommendation: A recommendation to change both ranking questions to tree planting consisting of 454 per acre (8x 12 spacing) or less for pine seedlings.  
    • Prescribed burning has been discussed at length regarding 142 burns completed (258 burns contracted but most cancelled or deleted – Why?)
    • Many cancelled contracts were smaller burns – perhaps smaller payments for smaller burns but consultants said they need at least $2,000 to make it worth their time for anything 60 acres or less.  A committee was formed to discuss this further since no decision was made.
    • Question was asked about the recommendation for planting for WRP planting and CRP planting

 

Wildlife Report – James Baker, NRCS State Wildlife Biologist

  • Notes from the Sub Committee Report, May 10, 2016.
    • Working group to be established to look at AR options to Working Lands for Wildlife Program.
    • Working Lands for Wildlife– Arkansas previously not involved, but now have species available. Needs to be species oriented – others have tried rattlesnakes, bugs, etc. – need something more charismatic. Considerable interest in Quail.
    • Pollinators – NRCS likes to plant things – easy to document. Natural regeneration for pollinators is effective and cost efficient. Recommendation: Would like to create a methodology and include for FY17 Conservation practice scenario – biggest challenge will be how to measure success.
    • Glade Restoration – doing most with forest stand improvement. No forest after practice is completed
  • Important, so we will be involved in this area.
  • A subcommittee is needed to make recommendations: Ted Zawislak at AGFC, (forestry)
    • Wants committee to determine best practices/methodology.
    • Goal – to create infrastructure to establish best practices for the land.
    • Consider working with other states to create an interim practice.
    • 3 month timeline to consider.
  • Feral Swine Initiative update on this work. In the 2nd year of the pilot program. Six years ago used wildlife management to offer assistance with hog traps. Another group got in trouble saying it was APHIS’ job. Now, we can utilize camera /monitoring schemes; and utilize the whole sounder approach. Public and Private land can be habitat for pigs. $300,000 in initial year was used. After 1st year, every county asked for help through conservation districts. All districts want to be involved. APHIS, AGFC & AACD are partnering on this. 2nd year – spent $120,000 of the $300,000.
    • What is the process for defining success? Photos, counting heads out of traps. They also keep up with a data sheet. Is this something NRCS should be involved in?
    • AGFC – most counties are about to have traps. If APHIS or AACD has a trap, and all we are doing is providing cameras – maybe better to give to districts.
    • Is there any restoration work needed? No, it will do it on its own.
    • EQIP Program dollars must go into hands of producers, districts not eligible except through TSP.
    • Baiting concerns – CWD is proposing getting rid of food baiting process.
    • CIGs are usually intended for a new practice invented within an existing practice.
    • Recommended that a Feral Hog Taskforce be created – interagency group and potentially a separate subcommittee. Open to any, but need reps from Livestock, AGFC, etc.

 

Grassland Report – Nancy Young, NRCS State Resource Conservationist

  • Reported on numerous training activities throughout the state on fencing, grazing management
  • Working on two videos in cooperation with ArFB and AGLC
  • Setting up demonstration pastures with the rainfall simulator
  • Recommendations
  • State Resource Assessment maps – add terminology, should be well stated with more information on how they were developed
  • Increase our work with our partners on training- ensure advance notice of field days and trainings are provided to partners.

 

Alternative Crops – John Lee, NRCS State Agronomist

  • Notes from the Sub Committee Report, June 06, 2016.
    • Review of EQIP FY15 Summary: High tunnel houses are the biggest conservation practice (50 – 60 houses per year) 350+ houses since 2011 with NRCS funding under this subcommittee.

Question is how many are still active and utilizing the houses for the purpose intended?

What barriers arise after they get the houses? Lack of education.

  • 54 new houses FY15 – FY17.
  • How do we set up additional new training? How do we get them marketing training? How do we connect them with the current marketing opportunities that are available?
  • No extension fact sheets on high tunnel houses, little research done.

 

What barriers arise regarding marketing the crops?

  • How to get schools to use locally grown foods? Know your farms, know your foods. Community gardens on school grounds.
  • Are their funds available to help local schools support these programs?
  • Identify groups that might be helpful identifying students for agricultural programs.
  • Guidance counselors.
  • FFA.
  • Lee County pilot project.

 

Organic Program

Currently we only have 6 organic farmers in our programs.

Do we have people interested in organic farming?

  • If so, where are they? Do they want help? What kind of help do they want? What barriers exist?
    • Recommendation – An outreach effort be made to identify the naturally grown farmers and producers in the SW and NW areas of the state to obtain answers to these questions and see how we can provide assistance.

 

Caps on Conservation Practice Payments

  • Standard size (30’ x 96’) 2,880 square foot high tunnel house
  • Cap to be placed on the payment rather than the size.
  • Mulching is currently $9,000/acre but appears to not be functioning as intended.
  • A new scenario is needed for mulching fruits and vegetables as $9,000/acre is too high
  • Mulching for pecan orchards is much different than for tomatoes, etc.
  • Recommendation – Set up a separate mulching scenario for fruits and vegetables that better reflects the cost of the practices.  Scenario for orchards to remain the same. Or address through practices payment cap

 

Adopting Gypsum as a Soil Amendment

  • Gypsum has shown itself to resolve multiple problems within the soil to provide enhanced crop production.
  • By-product of scrubbers on coal power plants is gypsum which will be in ample supply in the near future due to EPA regulations.
  • Payment - $40 - $45/ton     Application is 1 ton/acre.
  • Recommendation – that gypsum to added as a conservation practice as a soil amendment.

 

FY17 Recommendations

  • Integrated Pest Management Plan - Some confusion on the part of farmers on what type of IPM plan they need.
  • Recommendation – Outreach to farmers/producers to make them aware of the programs available to address their pest, weed and other crop production problems and conservation practices available to them.
  • Recommendation – identify other crops/groups which may not currently be included in any subcommittee such as bees, ornamental trees & flowers, etc. to be added to this group.

 

Water Quality Report – John Lee, NRCS State Agronomist

  • Reviewed notes from the Sub Committee Report, April 07, 2016

Edge of Field Monitoring given by Dr. Mike Daniels, UADOA

In-Stream Monitoring was discussed in the subcommittee meeting by Tony Ramick, ANRC.

  • ANRC is monitoring 3 – 12 Digit HUCs in Bayou Bartholomew
  • NWQI current 3 watersheds will be reviewed for requested applications.  If the Lower Deep does not have sufficient landowner request then the targeted acres will be Upper Deep and Cousart Bayou
  • NWQI- target acres even further, looking at those adjoining the stream by doing buffers. Recommend staying with 3 current NWQI watersheds and perhaps start looking at new ones.
  • Recommendation is that greater emphasis is given to buffer strips along the stream in the ranking system and funds are designated to provide an incentive to implement the practices.
  • Herbicide resistant weeds became a resource concern in 2012 have that continues.
  • Recommendation is that a statewide pool of funds be created that incorporates specific conservation practices in a tiered approach for increased funding.  Rationale:  If the farmer is willing to do a nutrient management plan, cover crops, and pest management plan then they should be able to get all three plans funded in the same year.

Adopting Gypsum as a Soil Amendment – Dr. Leo Espinoza

  • Calcium Sulfate – it is the by-product of the burning of coal. Can help reduce soil crusting, reduce AL toxicity and help transport nutrients deeper into profile
  • Recommendation is that we allow a payment practice 333 for gypsum for farmers.

FY17 Practice Payment Schedule Changes

  • ANRC & U of A DOA are working on a joint program to incorporate cover crops in the Bayou Bartholomew
  • Recommendation for a National Conservation Innovation Grant to increase the adoption of best management practices, utilization of cover crops, sustainability and demonstration fields with educational opportunities.
  • Recommendation is to implementation of Soil Health Cover Crop Tours.
  • Recommendation we provide funding for soil and water management for farmers.

New water quality specialist, Terry Nehls has been hired by NRCS and will start this month.

 

Soil Health Report – Keith Scoggins, NRCS District Conservationist

Caps on Conservation Practice Payments.

  • Discussion on the rationale for keeping the caps on cover crops to ensure that a larger number of farmers are able to adopt this conservation practice.
  • Recommendation for a designated statewide funding pool for Soil Health conservation planning.

Status of Herbicide Resistant Weeds and IPM.

  • There is a growing need for technical service providers to provide assistance to farmers to address herbicide resistant weeds.
  • Discussion was held regarding the success rate of farmers following the guidance of the consultants.
  • Recommendation that the funds be increased to meet the growing demand and additional information is released to the public.

Soil Health Alliance.

  • The Alliance would be broader than cover crops but would encompass look at the organic material, infiltration rates, etc. Task Force - Tim Smith, Robby Bevis, Keith Scoggins, Mike Taylor.
  • The Alliance thinks we need to look at soil holistically.

 

  • Recommendation that funding be provided to provide support in establishing a farmer led organization called the Arkansas Soil Health Alliance focusing on soil health.

 

Southern Agriculture Cover Crops/Soil Health Conference

  • October 25 – 26, 2016     ASU Convocation Center, Jonesboro, AR

 

EQIP Climate Change Mitigation (Additional Funding Category)

  • Alternative Wet/Dry Irrigation – to reduce greenhouse gases 50%.
  • Will be used with Carbon Credit Trading.

 

FY17 Practice Payment Schedule Changes

  • See add gypsum as a conservation practice as recommended in the Water Quality Report – Conservation Practice 333.

 

New Technology

  • Ray Archuleta, Regional Soil Health Specialist is now located in the state office.
  • Recommendation that tropical sunn hemp be included as a cover crop by the Arkansas Plant Board.
  • Recommendation that funding be provided to do the research to determine what qualifies as “healthy soil” in Arkansas.

Water Quantity Report – Charolette Bowie, NRCS State Irrigation Engineer.

 

  • Collectively a great job has been done on ensuring structural practices are available and address the resource needs but now is time to look at irrigation water management in more detail.

 

New technologies are starting to catch on but still an education barrier remains

 

Recommendation is that training be provided for farmers to show them how to use component of the IWM practice effectively to save water

  • Training should include a video/field day on how to use sensors, install them, data to be collected, etc.

 

  • Alternate wet/dry – separate scenario has been developed due to greenhouse gas – get so much per acre. Alternate wet/dry is not currently in the NRCS Standard Guide.
  • AWD/Carbon Credit Protocol was discussed but there was some confusion about what was involved for the farmer. Request was made to increase funding for this practice payment.
  • AWD is a high risk practice due to disease.
  • Recommendation to look at the possibility for a new scenario for AWD to include greenhouse gas protocols with new payment rate.

 

  • Groundwater Decline Initiative – Walt Delp
  • $3 million was moved from the Illinois River Initiative and moved into seven counties in east Arkansas to address the declining aquifer.
  • Craighead, Poinsett, Cross, Arkansas, St. Francis, Prairie & Lee.
  • Target – more efficient supply & delivery.
  • land leveling,
  • tailwater recovery,
  • off-season recovery.
  • 1 year program.
  • A matrix will be developed to analyze the resulting data.
  • Recommendation is for NRCS to seek additional funds to expand this program for additional years.

All State Technical Committee Sub-committee reports are available upon request.

Other business:

State Resource Assessment – Edgar Mersiovsky, NRCS State Soil Scientist

  • The SRA is a tool built from a series of GIS input layers to help determine resource issue
  • Review of the Assessment for the group along with the included maps with the help of Pam Jannise, GIS Specialist.
  • NRCS has a target of Aug 19th to have all major resource concerns updated and feedback included
  • Important to get the SRA process correct as the data is used heavily in determining local needs and priority at risk acres needing treatment.

 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – Kenneth Lee, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Programs

  • Trying to get funds out in a timely manner. Sixty-one percent of EQIP is already obligated. Well ahead of where things were at last year.

 

EQIP – Climate Change Initiative – Walt Delp, NRCS State Conservation Engineer

  • Walt gave a brief overview of the initiative and how it will be implemented within the state.

 

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – Jena Moore, NRCS Resource Conservationist

  • Changes will be made in the CSP program.
  • Subcommittees will be involved with the development of new ranking questions.
  • CSP is the largest conservation program in terms of acres.
  • $70 million for old contracts.
  • $12.1 million for new contracts.
  • Overhaul coming later this year will create the need for new training for NRCS staff and producers.

 

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) – Lori Barker, NRCS Resource Conservationist

  • Announcement of Program funding has been listed on grants.gov
  • Must have DUNS & SAMS number at the time of submittal.
  • 11 Areas of Concerns.
    • Nutrient Reductions & Management
    • Soil Health
    • Pollinators
  • July 5th Deadline Proposal

 

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) – Dianne Schlenker, NRCS Initiatives Coordinator

  • Reported on the currently approved RCPP projects.
  • 5 pre-proposals have been submitted.
  • Announcement – December 16, 2016.
  • Resource concern was added – Climate Change.
  • Another sign-up will be added next year.

 

Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) – Dianne Schlenker

  • Still work ongoing with older contracts.
  • Allocations are getting smaller as contracts are being completed.
  • Review is needed to see if goals have been met.
  • 26 projects funding is over $112 million.
  • 6 WREP funding is over $55 million.
  • Wildlife was listed as secondary resource concern.
  • Many projects show multiple positive impacts on wildlife.

 

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) – Randy Childress – Assistant State Conservationist for Easements

  • $800,000 – Watershed Assessment Program.
  • WREP – Applications were due on May 10, 2016.
  • Chief Weller put $12 million into this program.
  • The Nature Conservancy & Mississippi River Trust both submitted application.
  • Handout was included in packet.

 

FY 2016 Local Led Process Feedback - Kenneth Lee, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs

  • 57% said the timing was adequate.
  • 82% said the resource concern said the funds were appropriate.
  • 36% local allocation adequate.
  • 64% satisfied with the local led process.
  • Locally led work groups will be given a set date to have their work finished so their information will be provided to NRCS in time to compile the allocations.

 

Next Meeting Date.

  • October 4, 2016 will be the proposed date of the next NRCS State Technical Committee Meeting.

Meeting adjourned at 2:00pm.

Respectfully submitted by Debbie Moreland, Acting Secretary.