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May 7, 2015 STC Meeting Minutes

State Technical Committee Meeting

May 7, 2015

ANRC - Arkansas River Room, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Welcome from Mike Sullivan, Arkansas NRCS State Conservationist

  • The FY 14 Annual Report is now available on the NRCS website.
  • Landscape initiative funding had escalated in previous years has leveled off.
  • Good news in that technical funding is now better aligned with financial assistance for producers.
  • Reported that they announced 38 positions to be hired to provide assistance with the increased work load due to all of the initiatives, EQIP, etc.
  • He remarked that he hopes to see an increase in better one-on-one conservation planning with the farmer, producer, etc.
  • NRCS will be changing the way they are handling their funding issues.  They will be making funding proposals based on acres needing treatment on resource concerns and identified resource concerns.  Due to having to work with a Continuing Resolution each year it has been difficult to timely make decisions due to a late approved budget.  Budgets will be built on a three year rotation.
  • STC will meet twice a year with meetings planned for each May and October.  They would like to see the subcommittees meet early enough to provide NRCS those reports at least one month prior to May.  We need recommendations now for FY 16.

Our agency is built on 3 pillars

  • Delivery system – working with and through local conservation districts
  • Technical assistance and Technical Standards and Expertise – we need more time to get science in place
  • Conservation Planning – systematic planning/problem solving approach

Lori Barker – FY 2015 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG)

  • Public announcement will go out this week
  • June 15, 2015 Deadline for submittal
  • $300,000 has been appropriated
  • Some of the targeted areas have updated and/or revised
  • Go to Grants.gov for more information and to apply.  Let Lori Barker know if there are any problems or questions with the process.
  • We received 8 CIG proposals to review from national office.  They have to be returned June 18.

Corey Farmer – FY 2015 EQIP Program Update

  • General EQIP total allocation was $32 million
  • Local funds of almost $14,982,764.63 were allocated from the general fund
  • Groundwater Decline Fund included under this allocation
  • Local funds were primarily focus on individual county resource concerns
  • Cropland, Forest, & Pasture/CAFO were the majority

State Initiatives

  • Small Crop Farms/Alternative Crops
  • Little Red I & D Project (former AWEP project) $350,000
  • Arkansas River Valley CAFO in four counties (Johnson, Logan, Franklin and Yell) - $1 million + primarily focusing on waste management system improvements

Five Statewide Categories - $700,000 for these accounts

  • Cropland
  • Water Quality
  • Forest
  • Pasture
  • Wildlife

Mandated $3.2 million for historically underserved producers

Conservation Activity Plans - $250,000

On Farm Energy Initiative – irrigation energy & poultry houses $4 million

Seasonal High Tunnel - $450,000

StrikeForce - $3.5 million ($2 million from general EQIP funds)

  • This year we are using a team approach to funding based on the NRCS AR team divisions

Alternative Crop Funds - $1.2 million

 

Kenneth Lee – FY 16 Locally Led Proposal

  • Request has been sent out to the districts asking for their input on how the process worked and what recommendations to enhance the process. 
  • Screening tools will be encouraged to allow districts more flexibility
    • Will go out earlier to provide districts more time and additional training on how the funds are dispersed so they can do a better job on addressing their resource concerns
  • Basic resource concerns are being addressed now.  Do we need to have opportunities for special projects?  This information would be included in the locally led workgroup process to encourage them to submit proposals to address specific resource concerns.  The group agreed.  Mike Sullivan suggested that districts look at all avenues for funding.         
  • Cap on funds – probably $1 - $3 million range
  • This year funding in General EQIP went up while MRBI funding went down

Jena Moore – Conservation Stewardship Program Update (CSP)

  • Currently evaluating 1,068 applications and will be complete by May 22
  • Allocated 282,440 agricultural land acres and 14, 865 forest acres
  • Expect to obligate at least $8.8 million
  • Flexibility has been increased to reflect needed activities

New enhancements:

  • 13 for forest and wildlife
  • 6 for soil health
  • 9 for rice production/migratory birds
  • 4 irrigation water management

21 enhancements revised with new codes

Expecting more changes in FY16

John Lee – LC1 - MRBI Bundles

  • On national team to look at bundles AR, MO, KY
  • Arkansas has submitted 5 enhancement bundles
  • Enhancements will be offered in 2016 funding cycle
  • Need enhancements that are easily adopted by farmers
  • Needs information on bundles submitted by Monday
  • Will provide info on enhancements through year

Jena Moore - CSP Continued

  • The CSP page on the NRCS website has more information concerning enhancements, job sheets, and state supplements
  • Arkansas is in the top five in the country in CSP funding
  • Counties in NW part of the state are beginning to use CSP on pastureland

James Baker – Feral Swine Pilot Project

  • Reported on the new initiative - $300,000
  • Mike Sullivan is the chairman of NRCS National Feral Swine task force.
  • NRCS has partnered with APHIS and conservation districts to work together on this
  • Greatest issues are adjacent to public lands
  • It is important to capture the whole sounder to be effective
  • Need producers to commit to this 3 year initiative
  • Pilot Project provides funding for monitoring and evaluation, no funds for eradication
  • NRCS is planning to assist with the damage (resource concerns) after the hogs are removed
  • Ranking questions include grouping landowners for greater impact
  • Question – who should be doing the monitoring?  Should be determined by the districts themselves
  • APHIS is looking at trying to provide demonstration traps/gates

Dianne Schlenker - Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)

  • The process should be much easier for the user
  • TA/FA funds should be included in the grant proposal
  • The ceiling is $10 million per project
  • TA – 20% for NRCS
  • Project sponsors will work with ACP and STC to address the priority resources concerns
  • Outreach meetings will be organized by AACD to provide information and instructions
  • Deadline is July 8, 2015 for Pre-Proposals
  • Grants.gov website – has related documents for projects, a fillable pdf form for proposals, and information sheet

Dianne Schlenker – Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI)

  • Six MRBI proposals were extended
  • $7.1 million thru 2016 for older projects.
  • 3 new projects that will continue until FY18 for $7.8 million
  • $1.5 million for Cache in 2016
  • Focus area for 2016 will stay the same
  • 5 – 10    12 digit HUC for 2016
  • Older 2012 MRBI projects received $2.76 million for FY15
  • Every project except one received an extra $60,000
  • Total project funding for 6 continued projects and 3 new projects is - $14.9 million
  • Middle Cache area was extended through FY16 but we are disappointed no funds were put in for FY15 other than what was in the original proposal from 2012.
  • Edge of field monitoring will be available for each MRBI project where a monitoring partner is available.
  • Date to submit new proposals in the summer sometime.  No date yet

Mike Daniels with the Cooperative Extension Service mentioned the MRB conservation network website.  mrbconservationnetwork.net  - mrbi website – contains newsletter with MRBI information.  Encouraged everyone to subscribe. 

Upcoming meeting concerning Edge of Field - December 1-3, 2015 in Memphis

Subcommittee Reports

Shawn Brewer – Energy Subcommittee

  • The prior 20 improvement scenarios remain; no improvements added as the current practices are giving adequate results.
  • Payment rates are targeted at 75% of the actual costs
  • HQ is asking for more design documentation but the TSPs feel the documentation from AgEMPs is adequate
  • Energy program started with poultry producers, but some cropland energy audits are being done
  • Typical energy improvement on cropland is conversion of engines to electric motors, has a quick payback
  • Concern that high participation in the engine conversion might impact the 60/40 ratio for EQIP
  • Should be noted that conversion of irrigation source from groundwater to surface water exhibits a large savings in irrigation energy

Recommendation – add no new improvements to the Energy program

Recommendation – Keep improvements (engine conversion) for irrigation energy in the program, so long as adjacent states do. Separate funding pool might be warranted to control the balance between livestock and row crop.

George Rheinhardt - Forestry Subcommittee

  • Joint Chief’s Projects were discussed.
    • Last year’s Western Arkansas Woodland Restoration $2mm Project was success.
    • Funded again this year at $1.4 mm
    • New proposal for Shortleaf Pine Restoration was rejected.
  • Much discussion on FY14 EQIP Practice Scenarios contracted (almost $50mm total)
    • Over $3.5 mm for practices used by forest landowners ($2mm from WAWRP)
    • Debate on how much should be credited to Wildlife (Selected Practices, Selected Scenarios of practices, or resource concerns)
    • All methods show more than 5% of EQIP go to wildlife resource concerns.
  • After much debate, the group decided to make a recommendation to put a $15,000 payment cap on the Permanent fire break practice 394.
    • In fy14 over $1.2 mm spent on this practice.  This was the most popular conservation practice for forest landowners.
  • Decided to recommend not need to dig containerized seedlings for tree planting compliance check.
  • Decided to recommend to modify question 7 in local ranking questions for the EQIP Forestry statewide forestry pool to include prescribed burning.
    • Before, applicants got ranking points for including permanent fire breaks. 
    • Amended question to include prescribed burning with permanent fire breaks to receive points.  

Jeremy Huff – Grassland Subcommittee

  • Committee talked about the trends and technical aspects of grazing management
  • Technical documents to be developed to provide more assistance to landowners, ranchers, etc.
  • Numerous field days were held in FY14
  • Demonstrated the Rain Simulator for the committee
  • No recommendations at this time.  Will pass along if any received

John Lee – Alternative Crops

  • John reported that the committee hadn’t met but he stated that he will be meeting in June 2015
  • Increase payments to implement a full conservation system on small diversified farms

John Lee - Cover Crops & Soil Health Committee

  • Residue management – two adopted were seasonal tillage and cover crops (NWQI)
  • Nutrient management – increased implementation of precision farming with soil samples
  • Promote the N’Star program with documents, outreach, etc.

Recommendation – make sure that farmers are informed of the Nutrient Management practices

Recommendation – cross training between NRCS and U of A Extension Agents (Bt corn – refuge acres, etc.)

  • New poultry complex that is coming to northeast Arkansas which will make poultry litter readily available which may result in additional regulations/regulators

On-farm storage – polytubing will be revisited

Recommendation – add polytubing as a conservation practice

  • Integrated Pest Management – is “pigweed” still a problem
  • Allocate a separate pool of funding to address multiple resistant weeds that currently exist in Arkansas
  • Discussion needs to be held with the highway department on their role in moving these weeds from point A to point B
  • Talked about the National Training Farm, Mike Taylor’s farm in Phillips County
  • Mike is converting some crop land into grazing land for cattle

Recommendation - Fact sheets are needed that are species specific

Recommendation – allocate funding to do a cost analysis on cover crops regarding the benefits, species specific, etc.

Recommendation – increase payment rates of filter strips, field border, etc. to encourage farmers to implement maintenance

Recommendation – once a year have a round table discussion with all conservation partners to talk about what works and what does not work – Resource Task Force to be created to bounce ideas off each other

Recommendation – one more index to put practice codes in numerical order

Cover Crop/Irrigation Expo will be held October 28 – 29, 2015 at ASU

  • John Lee asked the group to provide topics and/or speakers for this event

John McAlpine spoke to the concern for possible infestation of cogon grass and asked that it be given attention

Recommendation – A fact sheet be developed on cogon grass to educate landowner

 

Walt Delp - Water Quantity Subcommittee                              

  • Payment rates were discussed with regard to specific practices, such as two stage ditches
  • Irrigation water management – continues to be a growing topic
  • Partnering with ANRC, AACD to develop a larger group of Water Resource Technicians
  • Two conferences:
    • One conference is for professional – October 27 – 28, 2015
    • One conference is for farmers, producers, etc. – February 2016
  • Fact sheets being developed for micro-irrigation, alternative crops, etc.  This continues to be a growing area due to StrikeForce efforts
  • Water monitoring need to be developed for the micro-irrigation
    • Water testing for filter design.
    • Track results of tests
  • Warp Drive generators – can run at whatever speed the producer wants
  • Soft Start generators – goes from slow to high speed

James Baker – Wildlife Subcommittee

  • Talked about the 5% allocation for wildlife which includes 16 practices
  • Some partners feel not all practices have value for wildlife
  • The group will meet again in June 2015

Recommendation – ranking questions were specific to wildlife in FY2014, but to return to the same ranking questions for all EQIP contracts.  Specific ranking questions can be addressed in the local ranking questions

Recommendation – return to the program such as WHIP because it allows producers to target specific wildlife benefits in a targeted manner in FY16

  • Quail focal areas need to be funded
  • Filter strips need more attention due to continued maintenance requirements
  • Comment was made to include pollinators and habitat for pollinators

Randy Childress – Arkansas Amendment to Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)

  • Deadline is May 15, 2015
  • 8,000 – 10,000 acres are being targeted for the $13+ million allocation
  • CRP land is eligible, if contract is expiring and approved, it can be placed in a conservation easement
  • The program to be coordinated with MS and LA
  • Can enroll CRP lands if they are matched with equal number of WRE eligible land
  • Land is adjacent to public and/or conservation lands
  • 100 acres of CRP matched with 100 acres of cropland – must share a border
  • Under 5 years of a CRP contract you can ask for the cropland values
  • Over 5 years you have to consider other factors
  • If you cancel a CRP contract the funds have to be returned to FSA
  • Minimum size to be 20 acres with the exception of limited resource applications
  • These contracts can be 30 years/75% of payment or perpetual easement
  • Rankings are being done now

 

Fall meeting will be held in October 2015