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Kentucky USDA State Technical Committee

February 13, 2014
Meeting Summary

PowerPoints referenced in this summary are found on the February 13th meeting page.

The main Kentucky State Technical Committee may be accessed by clicking here.

 

The meeting, held at the NRCS Kentucky State Office Conference Room located at 771 Corporate Drive, Lexington, Kentucky, began at 9:30 a.m. with a welcome by Acting State Conservationist Clifford Thornton.  He introduced himself as an Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations from Kansas who is on detail in Kentucky while State Conservationist Karen Woodrich is on detail to Washington, DC.  He said that Karen should be back middle of March and he will be acting until then.  He asked the attendees to introduce themselves and identify the organization or agency they represented.  A list of attendees and a copy of the agenda are attached.

Clifford gave an overview of what NRCS does and said that although the agency has gotten into the administrative side of contract management with producers, that NRCS is still a technical agency, and appreciates the input and advice from the State Technical Committee.

Clifford then introduced NRCS Assistant State Conservationist Deena Wheby who briefly discussed the Farm Bill without going into the implications the “2014 Act” would have on the agency or producers.  She said that the Department asked that agencies not discuss details of the Act as they were still looking into it and its implications.  She said that she would not be able to answer questions or speculate on the provisions.  Deena did say that while the Conservation Title repeals several of NRCS’s programs, that the functions of each will be handled under other programs. As an example, the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) was repealed, but wildlife work will be conducted under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  She said that Kentucky has been doing some of this already.  The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) will now fall under one “Agriculture Conservation Easement Program” (ACEP), but each will have their own focus (protecting farmland, restoring and protecting wetlands, and grasslands respectively), requirements and guidance.  She said that while the number of programs will be reduced, NRCS’s assistance will not. She hopes that the streamlining proves beneficial to employees and customers alike.  Marcinda Kester from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Frank Beum from the U.S. Forest Service both made a few remarks, but concurred with Deena that they were unable to be very specific at this time.  Several questions were asked (mostly to FSA), and most were not answerable at this time.

Deena encouraged everyone to sign up for GovDelivery if not already signed up in order to keep up with information that will be forthcoming.  She said that the State Technical Committee will be called upon in the coming months to provide input and advice for the new Farm bill activities.  Christy Morgan, NRCS acting public affairs specialist, mentioned that there is a State Technical Committee “topic” for which persons can sign up to receive information specifically of interest to the Committee.  Information about GovDelivery may be found in a presentation made to the State Technical Committee at the February meeting last year (2013) and questions on GovDelivery may be addressed to Christy at christy.morgan@ky.usda.gov.

Next on the agenda was the “NRCS Programs Update” presented by Deena Wheby and Assistant State Conservationist for Natural Resources Planning Jack Kuhn.  Deena discussed NRCS financial assistance programs including activity summaries from fiscal year 2013 and plans for fiscal year 2014.  Regarding fiscal year 2014, she said contracting with producers is currently on hold due to the recent passage of the Farm Bill.  She added that NRCS continues to take applications and do conservation planning.  The next EQIP ranking period closes on April 18, 2014. Deena mentioned that a new EQIP application is available and groups that provide the applications to their producers should get the new form from her. See her PowerPoint presentation shown as “NRCS Programs Update” on the February 13, 2014, Kentucky State Technical Committee webpage.

Jack Kuhn discussed NRCS easement programs.  He said that in fiscal year 2013, Kentucky NRCS invested nearly $16 million through five NRCS easement programs (Wetlands Reserve Program, Emergency Watershed Protection Program Floodplain Easements, Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Healthy Forest Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program.)  He said that WRP investments over the last 10 years have been more than $50 million.  Since 1995, more than 25,000 acres have been enrolled in the program through 184 easements and 6 cost-share projects. He briefly discussed the Healthy Forest Reserve Program and the work that is being done in the Upper Cumberland River Watershed. He mentioned that although the Emergency Watershed Protection Program is not a Farm Bill program, that Kentucky utilized more than $1.7 million in 13 counties, mostly in Eastern Kentucky.  He mentioned that State Technical Committee review will be needed for the Kentucky WRP Geographic Area Rate Cap (GARC) and the Final Compatible Use Guidelines. He asked anyone who was interested in reviewing these two items to contact him at jack.kuhn@ky.usda.govor 859-224-7371.  See his PowerPoint presentation shown as “Easement Programs Update” on the February 13, 2014, Kentucky State Technical Committee webpage.

Next, State Resource Conservationist Mark Ferguson provided an overview of the Ecological Sciences Staff information including national and state Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs), cover crop termination guidelines and how they were developed, Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), and Technical Service Providers (TSPs).  He said that state CIG proposals are due April 25, 2014.  The national CIG pre-proposal applications are due March 7, 2014.  The NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines for Non-Irrigated Cropland were primarily developed to address contradictions between Risk Management Agency policy and NRCS recommendations regarding cover crops.  These guidelines will allow farmers to have more flexibility in utilizing cover crops while staying in compliance with USDA agencies.  Key findings of the Chesapeake Bay CEAP report included that a voluntary, incentives-based conservation approach is effective and that opportunities exist for additional conservation to be implemented, especially with nutrient management.  A change in the TSP certification process will now require States to verify TSP applicant information prior to the application being considered for certification by the National TSP Team.  See his PowerPoint presentation shown as “Ecological Sciences Updates” on the February 13, 2014, Kentucky State Technical Committee webpage.

The next topic for discussion was USDA’s new StrikeForce Initiative(SFI).  Jason Issac, FSA District Director and Kentucky StrikeForce coordinator for USDA discussed the new initiative.  He said that SFI was to help bring people up the ladder of poverty.  StrikeForce was launched in 2010 as a pilot project in persistent poverty areas in rural Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi.  Additional states were added in 2012, and 2013.  Kentucky was among four new states named as a SFI state this year. Jason distributed a map showing the 73 counties in Kentucky that are included in the SFI, stating that the selection criteria was that counties had to have a 20 percent or greater poverty level over the last several censuses.  A copy of the map may be found on the February 13, 2014, Kentucky State Technical Committee webpage.

Jason said that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack came to Pineville to announce Kentucky had been added to the SFI and at the same time, the Secretary announced that eight southeaster Kentucky counties were named as part of the President’s Promise Zone.  The Kentucky Promise Zone is the only rural area in the President’s initiative.  The other areas are urban (San Antonio, TX; Los Angeles, CA; and Philadelphia, PA) or tribal (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma).

Jason said that the SFI is a "One USDA" concept, hoping that customers will not see different agencies when they walk in the door, just USDA.  All USDA agencies will give more consideration to target these counties. 

In states previously identified as SFI states, the Initiative so far has counted more than 400 partners, 80,300 projects and $9.7 billion dollars obligated in its counties.  This includes, as examples, farm loans, hospital grants, high tunnels, summer feeding programs, etc. Jason gave an example from another state where watermelon growers who had been selling their product independently came together and sold as a group to a large chain store.  He said that this partnership changed their lives vs. selling from back of trucks.  He gave another example where there was an issue with old Spanish water rights.  USDA and local officials worked together and were able to get water to landusers who had not had water for 500 years to irrigate and farm. He said NRCS was able to assist with building a channel to deliver water to the fields.

Jason added that SFI will work to tie in with community leaders, faith based organizations, others to partner together. He reported that Kentucky USDA leaders have already met with the Governor’s Cabinet leaders to potentially tie to projects they are working on.  There is a meeting planned for March to meet with former Governor Paul Patton and local community leaders to discuss potential projects.

He said that projects are already ongoing including refuse coal to liquid (RD), water line extensions, disaster preparedness, etc.  He said that SFI is a good outreach tool.

Deena discussed how NRCS will work in SFI counties.  She said that NRCS will have the same programs to offer (no new SFI programs), but will be looking for more/better outreach to landusers who don't know about NRCS opportunities.

Jeff Jones, Rural Development (RD), represented Tom Fern who was unable to attend the meeting.  Jeff discussed what RD does, stating there are three divisions:  housing division (single and multi-family), rural utilities, and business cooperative services.  He said that one big area that RD is working in is bioenergy including efficiency and/or generation by way of renewables.  There is a lot of growth in the local foods area that is driven by increased customer demand.  He said that RD works with Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development on various food and agriculture initiatives including Value Added Producer grants which fit well with small acreage farmers.  Business loans available for up to $10 million working through a local lender and partnering with the Small Business Administration.  Jeff elaborated on the Promise Zone. He said it is an eight county Presidential Initiative that includes Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Perry and 6 of 8 census tract in Whitley County.  He said this is also a Team USDA focus but other Federal Agencies will also be assisting.  Currently a Strategic Plan is being worked on and should be complete in the next few months.

For more information on the StrikeForce Initiative, visit http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=STRIKE_FORCE

Deena next asked two newcomers to the State Technical Committee to tell a little about their organizations, stating that she thought they were good partners for the SFI.  She called on Myrisa Christy from the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) who gave a brief overview of who KCARD is.  KCARD is a non-profit organization established to facilitate agricultural and rural business development in Kentucky. KCARD is supported through grants from the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant program and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund.  KCARD fosters business success and growth by developing and delivering technical assistance and by providing educational opportunities for agricultural and rural businesses seeking to enhance their economic opportunities in and around the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  For more information on KCARD, visit their website athttp://www.kcard.info/

Next, Mark Walden from Grow Appalachia provided information about his organization. Grow Appalachia was created in 2009 through funding from John Paul Dejoria, co-founder and owner ofJohn Paul Mitchell Tequila, to address the problem of food security in Appalachia.  The organization emphasizes food production in order to introduce as much no-cost, fresh, healthy food as possible to the region. The basic goal is to help as many families grow as much of their own food as possible. They work in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia.  Grow Appalachia provides a number of services which includes making gardening grants available to communities through partner nonprofits; providing technical and physical assistance to gardens; donating a portion of the harvest from each partner site to a local food bank or others who cannot garden for themselves; encouraging growers to move toward entrepreneurship; leveraging community assets in the form of universities, churches, volunteer workers, external grant sources; and building household scale high tunnels.  More information about Grow Appalachia may be found on their website at http://www.berea.edu/grow-appalachia/

The last presenter of the day was Randy Smallwood, Kentucky state agronomist for NRCS.  Randy discussed NRCS cover crop guidance and EQIP payments available and how guidance and payments were set (with regional payment schedule group, NRCS East Technical Support, UK.)  See his PowerPoint presentation shown as “Cover Crop Update” on the February 13, 2014, Kentucky State Technical Committee webpage.

Deena then opened the floor for any questions for any of the presenters. There were none.  She then asked if there were any announcements from the group.  Maury Cox, Kentucky Dairy Development Council, announced that theYoung Dairy Producer Conference & Kentucky Dairy Partners Meetingwill be held in Bowling Green on February 25-26, 2014.  More information may be found athttp://www.kydairy.org

Deena said that when official Farm Bill fact sheets and other information is made available that she will send links to the State Technical Committee.

Clifford made closing remarks saying that there will be an upcoming Cover Crop and Soil Health meeting in Lexington and Benton on February 18, 2014. More information may be found by clicking here.

He said that the agency will become more streamlined both in programs and in agency delivery. He mentioned the Field Delivery of the Future effort which will make the agency more efficient across the state and across the nation. He said through StrikeForce, USDA is striving to be “One USDA”.

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 11:45 a.m.