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Sept. 11, 2014 STC Meeting Minutes

Mike Sullivan welcomed everyone.  It’s been another ‘whirlwind’ year.  We continue to be in a state of transition with the new Farm Bill.   With the Farm Bill coming when it did, we were allowed to use our existing rules through this fiscal year.  We are experiencing a lot of growth pains into the new Farm Bill.  A number of our systems had to be upgraded.  We have some new flexibility in the Farm Bill where our funds are no longer used as annual funds, and some funds can be used beyond the end of September.  That is useful this year because we have been running late and have not fully obligated on some of our programs.  We may need to use some of that flexibility this year.  Normally by May or June, we are 100 percent obligated; but, as you will see in some of the reports, we still have a way to go.  Today, we will look back where we have been during 2014 and where we are headed in 2015.  In FY-13, we led the nation in financial assistance.  This year, there will be a little bit of a drop-off, but not much.   I think when all is said and done, we will have about $150,000,000 in Financial Assistance for the state, which is a lot of financial assistance – especially for the technical resources and technical assistance staff that we have and that available through our partners.  I commend all the work everyone has done and that we continue to do.  The Technical Committee has not met since late last fall, and we are ready to move through our work group process, particularly on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding.  Hopefully, we are going to set up things with the new Farm Bill where we continue to streamline and continue our processes and make it easier for producers to sign up and participate.  We continue to have an extremely strong demand for EQIP and now also with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  In FY-13, we led the nation in new CSP sign-ups as well as in the number of applications that were not funded.  Arkansas has a lot of demand – not only for EQIP – but also for CSP and our easement program.  Later, Randy Childress will address our easement program.  Arkansas is funded, if not at the top of the nation, somewhere fairly close.  Presenters should be as brief as possible to allow time for discussion and feedback.  We look forward to hearing from the subcommittees because that is where a lot of discussion and action happens outside of these meetings.

 

FY-14 Program Funding Results by Kenneth Lee: 

Alvin Peer gave the allocated and currently obligated EQIP funds report.  Because NRCS is still in the process of obligating funds, the obligated numbers in the reports will not match up with the allocated.  Although applications have been approved, we have not completed the obligation process.

 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program report by Alvin Peer: 

The numbers in the following categories are the results through September 9, 2014.  Results beyond that date are not included.

  • Local Work Groups allocated $10,000; $680,000; $75,000.22, with a total of 484 contracts (Kenneth Lee: corrected 10,000,000).  Statewide, in this category, we have allocated $727,749, with a total of 37 contracts. 
  • Historically Underserved:  $1,707,102.36 allocated, with a total of 49 contracts. 
  • National Initiatives:  $2,268,067.92 allocated, with 77 contracts obligated. 
  • Illinois River:  $3,312,478.60 allocated, with a total of 123 contracts.
  • StrikeForce Initiative:  $2,231,302 allocated, with 68 contracts.
  • Arkansas Western Woodlands – Fourth Partnership Initiative:  $2,000,000 allocated, with 102 contracts.
  • Conservation Activity Plan:  $198,459.31 allocated, with 59 contracts.
  • Obligation Total and Contracts/Acres in Counties:  Total of 1,205 contracts, with $37,167,227.12 obligated.  
  • Distributed spreadsheet showing status of 2014 EQI -- contract, summary, amount and obligation -- as of 9-9-14.

Those are dollars obligated currently.  There are still some funds in the amount of $37,000,000 that will go up to around $49,000,000 once we are finished. 

 

Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) and National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) report by Lori Barker:   149 contracts have been completed ($426,000).   At least 459 contracts are obligated.  Edge-of-field monitoring with the MRBI new monitoring ($407,382) and MRBI existing monitoring ($92,486), with a total of three contracts.   Any MRBI contracts for more than $150,000 must go to the NRCS Regional Conservationist for approval, and we have several of those.  This wait causes the total dollar amount shown in some reports to not be as large as it should be.  We have had three outreach workshops to promote EQIP Best Management Practices (BMP) and expect another with the University of Arkansas.  National Water Quality Initiative had three projects; $991,159 has been allocated, with 29 contracts.  PipePlanner software is easy-to-use and low cost.  We anticipate no problem if NRCS uses this service.

 

CIG by M. Daniels:

There is one CIG, 9/1/14-4/30/16.  University of Arkansas – over $100,000.

 

Conservation Security Program (CSP) report by Jena Moore:  

Our allocation for this period is $13,818,032, from which we will fund 443 contracts.  Currently, 377 contracts are obligated for 362,165.4 acres, at about $10.8 million for obligations.  Currently, 66 contracts are in preapproved or approved status, bringing our total funding to $12,771,566.  Our CSP projections of use by county remain the same with the applications we currently have.  Chicot County’s participation greatly increased this year.  There have also been good results from effective outreach, particularly with our partners.  The Farm Bureau worked with us in some counties, particularly Monroe County where we had “0” contracts in FY-13, and we are now seeing participation.  John Lee and Alvin Peer participated in outreach sessions with producers that resulted in the producer’s participation in the program.   CSP funding on new contracts:  funding for a 5-year contract provides funds each year for the enhancements done that year.  For prior year contracts, we had almost $60 million in funding this year.  On a different contract, on top of the new funding, so we had about $70 million going to these enhancements, which is really important in making sure that we address the resource concerns.  We started with 391,000 in ag acres.  We received an additional 29,000 acres this week, which brought our total ag acres allocated to 416,992.  Forestry acres increased from 10,000 to 12,917. 

 

Easements report by Randy Childress:

The new Farm Bill brought a new program which combined our CRP and WRP.  We expected a cut in those programs.  $800 Million was budgeted, and NRCS took 1,400 applications nationwide.  Arkansas brought 8,000 last year, and 7,000 this year.  The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that we had $21 million in these programs.  We rank third nationwide, behind California.  30 easements have been obligated.  We had 63 applications for over 15,000 acres in Arkansas, and we brought 7,000 of that.  $9 million in WREP areas.  Mississippi got 5 million, Louisiana got 10 million, and Arkansas got 17 million.  Arkansas is second in the nation for enrolled acres.

 

SUBCOMMITTEE REPORTS:

 

Water Quality/Water Quantity report by John Lee:

There is a great increase in farmer participation.  Practices have greatly increased nutrient management.  We have 55,000 acres nutrient management.  We continue to help producers with fertilizer – those that keep nitrogen in the soil and reduce the nitrogen in groundwater.  Let farmers know EQIP funds are available.  Boost – in state program for rice and wheat producers.  We need funding to give the N soil test program a boost.  Provide better guidance to farmers who are applying cover crops on their farms, and on financial assistance.  Arkansas has a 25,000 acre increase in cover crops from four years ago when we had 6,000 acres. 

Cover Crops:  Technical Service Providers- we should make it more efficient for farmers.  There is a waiting list of farmers for plans to be developed.

 

Waste Transfer Recommendations by Walt Delp:

May be changing in the future.  It is extended through FY-15.  Comment period is over on September 19.  Get with Debbie for sample comments.  A new processing plant is moving to the northeast area of the state.  For the first time, it is moving into row crop country.   660 poultry houses are coming into that area and will bring lots of manure to a lot of farmers who have not dealt with regulations in the past.  We are developing a phosphorus index and NRCS policy to educate row crop farmers to utilize that manure.  

 

Rainfall Simulator Recommendations:

NRCS is getting requests from people who want rainfall simulator demonstrations that show the effect of rainfall on various types of soil and water quality.  We don’t have enough information on cover crops that are suited to Arkansas.  Debbie Moreland hopes we will get science-based/sound information to distribute to farmers.  NRCS is seeking unbiased, proven research by experts around the country.  We need more information give farmers who grow crops other than the traditional wheat or rice. 

 

NRCS and AACD are sponsoring the 2nd Southern Agriculture Cover Crop Clinic at ASU in Jonesboro on October 28-29.  Sessions include soil management, water management, pest management, economics, cover crop management, and no-till.  Andrew Wargo said industry is weighing in on the conference.

 

Organic – Recommendation:

Look at data being more inclusive, certification, potential for a learning farm in Arkansas, and cross training with committee members.  Can we find potential organic farmers?

 

Wildlife and Forestry report by Jimmy Baker:

Recommends we support the Arkansas Western Restoration Program.   The West Arkansas Joint Forestry Initiative, a joint chief’s initiative between NRCS and the U. S. Forest Service (USFS), came up quickly with a very short turn-around response time.  The USFS focuses on forest service land and NRCS focused on adjacent land to help deal with combating potential wildfire concerns and protecting water supplies and water quality.  NRCS and USFS previously put together a potential forestry initiative which was used this year to work with partners and pull that project together quickly.  It worked very well, and we had very good participation and plenty of demand.  We expect funding for this project to continue next year.  We are relying on WHIP to do most of our wildlife work. 

 

Emerald Ash Bores have been confirmed in several counties in Arkansas – mostly south central and southern counties.  There is little that can be done about their being in forests. 

Forestry subcommittee will meet October 1, 2014.

 

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP):   WHIP is rolled into EQIP for FY-15.  Baker recommends that 5 percent of EQIP to be put into a pool.  Practice Standards have change in scope.  David Long is concerned that we should not limit ourselves just to the 5 percent for wildlife.  Mike Sullivan said that Working Lands for Wildlife could be a way to get additional funding.  From last year’s $60 million in EQIP funding, $8 to $10 million was used for practices beneficial to wildlife.  Sixteen core practices identified by Headquarters were primarily for wildlife practices. 

John K. said to have a species that attracts people to protect, and they are looking at a suite of species to promote for people to endorse.

Using Buffer Practices by David Long:  Wants to promote water quality.  He wants a state initiative that involves FSA programs and SAFE programs.

Tony Ramick said 319 can promote buffers, as well.

 

Energy Subcommittee report by Shawn Brewer:

In 2014, $1.9 million is available for Energy Initiatives, a $500,000 increase over FY-13.  There are 153 eligible applications at $6.6 million, a 40 percent increase over FY-13.  The $1.9 million is allocated for 33 contracts – implementation side.  There are 119 audit applications, $220,000.   Six audit contracts = $14,000 to audits.   LED’s make minor adjustment and are the most common bulb to use. 

 

STATE LEGISLATION:

Water Quality Contracts report by Charolette Bowie:

  • New technology – continuous row water. 
  • Met work contracts and communication going on new technology.
  • Irrigation Expo:  Debbie Moreland and M. Daniels are working on it.  Implement training for NRCS and District employees. 
  • Add additional training. 
  • Conservation practice standard – Irrigation system 447 components.  447 is not a payment standard.
  • Recommends:  ??
  • Practices costing over $150,000 have been sent to Headquarters for approval and are not included in this interim report.

Pasture report by Ralph Harris (Grassland Committee):

  • New farmers need job sheets to help them farm.
  • Need more outreach to producers and meetings with other groups.
  • Recommends cross training with the Cooperative Extension Service and other agencies.
  • Recommends updating 512 (pasture planning) information so that each entity is talking the same information.
  • Recommends the use of electric fences to rotate cattle, and permanent fences for perimeters. 

Discussion: 

  • Do we need a new subcommittee that deals with soil health and cover crops?  Is there enough interest in cover crops to establish another soil health or cover crops subcommittee? 
  • Debbie Moreland:  The Organic Committee could be broadened a little. 
  • The Organic Subcommittee could be broadened to add alternative crops and address certification and associated practices such as high tunnel practices. 
  • Mike Sullivan:  John Lee is working with the Cooperative Extension Service and others to form an informal advisory group to advise on the Cover Crop Conference and soil health and through the State Technical Committee. 
  • There are so many new and different players that could contribute to this, we need to get all them together to agree on what we should do and how we should do it, and get information needed for each sector.  If our subject is too broad, we will lose the interest of plant pathologists and other specialists.          
  • Tony Ramick:  Wants demonstration through 319 in areas with cover crops to share technical expertise, get partners involved, and use the Technical Committee.  Allow pest problems we could encounter – what applies to each project.   
  • At least, do a couple of demonstrations in a couple of areas with a couple of different cover crops to see what problems we may encounter and how to treat those. 
  • Andrew Wargo:  The subcommittee should be called Soil Health instead of cover crops.  Crop insurance should be expanded with cover crops.

2015 Conservation Stewardship Program report by Jena Moore:

  • Discussed CSP enhancements that will be offered.
  • Tri State – 3 of 5 are being considered to more forward at the national level.  Will do a state addendum to make them fit.
  • Developed 6 new enhancements. 
  • Renewal period for another 5-year period.  Rules:  Existing contract must be in compliance, must be addressing resource concerns or address them by the end of the contract, and adopt at least one new enhancement process that is not competitive.  It is based on funding available.  We currently have 576 active 2010 contracts, of which 251 applications have been entered into our online system.   We expect a large increase before tomorrow’s deadline. 
  • FY-15 – Short window on contracts implemented.  They must be evaluated soon after October 1, and obligated by December 15.
  • We have 300 applications with a combined total more than 100,000 acres.  Arkansas is first or second in the nation for the number of unfunded acres.
  • The Landscape Conservation Initiative group will try to integrate CSP with the Landscape Initiative. 

FY-15 Locally Led Work Group Proposals report by Johnny Chism (Program Implementation Committee):

  • Inconsistent types of proposals received last year -- county based, multi-county, and special project (example: watersheds, geographic area) and incomplete information -- made them hard to evaluate. 
  • EQIP dollars proposed by Local Work Groups for local funds were about $10 million, by far the largest EQIP fund category outside MRBI.  Part of the proposals was based on their requested dollars.  Some people expected their funds to be cut back, so they request three times the amount of money they needed – which caused problems with the system.  
  • Last year, requests totaled $51 million.
  • FY-15 - looking at two types of proposals:  county-based proposals and special project proposals.
  • County-Based Proposals:
    • Submit proposals through SharePoint site.
    • Can submit one or more proposals per county.
    • 50 percent of funds must go to livestock related projects.
    • Can select up to eight primary resource concerns to be addressed.
    • Sullivan:  Strategically important to connect locally-led funding to primary resource concerns.
    • Allow 45 days for Locally-Led Work Groups to set up meetings and get on the agenda.  Need information by November 1, 2015 - tight time-frame to make decisions. 
  • Special Project Proposals:
    • Submitting information through SharePoint makes the information more consistent.
    • The proposal is based on an area determined by the local work group.
    • Working on 10-15 questions to help evaluate the project:  Identify project name, geographic boundaries, land use, percent of livestock related applications, resource concerns, selected practices, ranking questions, number of people who come to the office with that resource concern, name of lead partner and collaborating partner, why the project is needed, expected outcome of the project, describe plan to evaluate the outcome, etc.  
    • Kenneth Lee:  Only one or two special projects may be funded due to the small amount of funds allocated for special projects.
    • Chism:  Every work group will get some amount of funds.
    • Debbie Moreland likes the special projects and suggested developing first, second, and third priority categories. 
    • Sullivan:  NRCS can possibly manage expectations by developing priority categories for proposals, such as water quantity, energy, wildlife, soil health, and plant health. 

StrikeForce Initiative report by Charlie Williams: 

  • StrikeForce operates in 20 states, including 48 high priority (poverty) counties in Arkansas.
  • NRCS has increased services to historically underserved producers in Arkansas’s high poverty counties by 500% since 2010. 
  • Goal is to assist historically underserved farmers in developing money-making enterprises where they sell produce to retail markets through cooperatives.     
  • NRCS, FSA, RD, CES, state universities, community leaders, and community-based organizations cross-train and work together to disperse information that helps people in high poverty counties increase their economic base. 

MRBI and RCP Updates by Dianne Schlenker: 

  • Nine 2012 projects are still active.  Requesting $10 million to complete those projects in FY-15.
  • Received 546 proposals nationally.
  • $2.8 billion was requested, $340 million is available. 

CRP Cost-Share Rate Update by Diana Colvard:

  • A tree and shrub site pre-rate established.
  • CRP’s cost-share rates are based on EQIP rates.  Requested vote on EQIP rate.
  • State Technical Committee’s vote on the same rate for EQIP was moved by Andrew Wargo, seconded by David Long, and approved.

Irrigation 319 Projects report by Tony Ramick:  Congratulations – April 1 – Deleted due to water quality improvement.  Wrote success stories and submitted them to EPA.  One has been accepted and published.   Stories included Arkansas NPS segments on St. Francis and Bayou De View.  Illinois River Watershed story segment will not be finalized until after September 30, which allows us to get credit for participating in fiscal year 2015.  Pilot project snapshot report of activities with the Cooperative Extension Service in the past year of covers what we accomplished in water quality and when we did it. They will get it to EPA for national publication.

Arkansas Procurement Assistance Center (APAC) – Helps farmers navigate the System for Awards Management (SAM) program.  NRCS welcomed Cooperative Extension Service’s assistance with the SAMS program.  Conduct group meetings to help producers get registered with SAM.