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Minutes of June 2, 2020, Texas State Technical Committee Webinar

Webinar/Teleconference

Opening

  • Rob Ziehr, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Partnerships
    • Rob introduced Clint Evans, Acting State Conservationist for Texas. Clint’s regular position is State Conservationist for NRCS in Colorado. He has worked 20 years with the NRCS in a variety of states. Clint’s comments below:

      • We have been able to conduct field work when needed,as well as provide service through telephone, email, through our online portal at farmers.gov, and the conservation client Gateway in order for producers to have access to submitting applications, payment requests, and requesting general technical assistance from our staff.
      • Working on reopening offices. We have a USDA playbook that has been developed by the Department and the Farm Production and Conservation mission area. We will reopen in our offices in a phased approach. It is based on nationwide data and County level specific data, based on the number of COVID-19 affections that are currently occurring or have occurred within the previous two-week period.We will be reopening offices in phases and bringing our staff back into the office over the next 4 to 6 weeks.
      • NRCS has been providing assistance or has assistance available to the livestock industry in cases where, if they have had a situation where they need to depopulate livestock through emergency animal mortality assistance, and this is meant to be a last resort.
  • Gary Six, Farm Service Agency State Executive Director, discussed the FSA programs and happenings:
    • We are in the process of trying to open our office up in phases.We have been able to open up into phase one, several offices over the past week. It does take a concerted effort of all agencies. It has been unique; it has been trying of sorts. Any changes you have on you to open up and open up fully, that in itself is going to be a big change.
  • Will Hundl, Southern Plains Regional Director, National Ag Statistics Service:
    • The survey of irrigation organization and farmer markets manager survey that we are trying to complete very quickly here at the end of May and the first part of June. It leads into our midyear surveys, which is very unique for us. This is the first time in recorded history that we have done an area framed survey, where we canvas the segments across the state.
    • Programs approaching include crop production report, organic study and our Census of Agriculture, economy loss, and then the cattle inventory survey along with quarterly milk production. Also, agricultural resource management studies. We are planning to go full-scale face-to-face interviewing for our fall surveys, particularly those with the agriculture resource management study where we are doing common practices for rice.
    • There is a collaborative project on the conservation practice study in 28 valleys that just received approval, hoping to get that in the mail and the data collected by midsummer.
    • Headquarters is also working with NRCS for collaboration to do a conservation practice adoption study. There is a pilot study projected to go into effect in 2021. Depending on that outcome, a full-blown study in 2022.
  • Lori Ziehr, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Programs:
    • Last meeting were some questions on water management.We did get further guidance, so I wanted to bring that forward.The WME is defined as a groundwater management district or similar entity with response abilities related to irrigation water delivery or management. They can be public or semi-public, meaning that it serves a public purpose.The purpose is to assist private agricultural producers with managing private water systems. They will be in a watershed wide conservation project with a current comprehensive water resources estimate. The plan would include either water conservation scheduling, distribution efficiencies, soil moisture monitoring, irrigation related structural or other measures, which include aquifer recovery practices, or a transition to water conserving crops or crop rotations, or deficit irrigation. The projects will be on eligible land of a producer or land that is under control of the WME. It can also be on adjacent land, or land adjacent to an eligible producer or eligible land of a producer provided that it is necessary to support the installation of the conservation practice system implemented on all of that eligible land. There are some differences with the payment limitations. So, the adjusted gross income and a payment limitation can be waived eligible projects. The payment limitation should not exceed $900,000 for the farm bill. We can approve the AGI, adjusted gross income, waivers. It does not have to be two separate projects. WME are separate and distinct from other payment limitations. So, despite the membership, it does not impact the payment limitations of the regular program participants.

      • Feral swine project- We previously discussed at length the feral swine control project pilot program that was in the 2018 statute. We did go out with our RFP and we were approved for the Canadian River, the upper River and the upper Leon. And that project was awarded to the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board as a 50-50 match. By the end of this month, we should have a formal agreement in place.

  • NRCS action items were distributed and reviewed with the following due dates:
    • EQIP Payment Caps – 6/30/202
    • High Priority Practice Areas – 6/30/2020
    • Source Water Protection Area priority practice designation and potentially targeted specific watershed designation – 7/31/2020
    • National Water Quality Initiative watershed designation – 6/30/2020
    • Local Work Group Comments – 7/31/2020
    • Development of state-specific Wetland Restoration Criteria and Guidelines – 7/31/2020
  • Jeff , Farm Service Agency program specialist
    • The changes to the Conservation Reserve Program, the enrollment increases from 24 million in 2019 to 27 million by 2023.We are going to have an updated cropping history. It is going to go from what it previously was. They're going to be looking at the years of 2012 through 2017.If you go into our handbook that we use for this, which is available to all producers, it is going to be found in paragraph 151. This has different examples of what would meet that cropping history. This generally applies to our general CRP sign-ups.And then our third bullet, continuous CRP sign-ups.Maintain not fewer than a .6 million acres by September of 2023. Contracts are not available under continuous CRP enrollment must have a sign-up and enrollment not less often than once a year. That means that every single December, so this past December we had our general sign-up. From March to May we had our grassland sign-up. So, this is now going to become an annual process. Our continuous sign-up goes throughout the entire FY.

    • No fewer than 2 million acres in CRP grasslands by 2023.So, this pulls out that total of 27 million that is up and bullet number one.

    • There will be no cost share for management activities, these national activities that must be carried out by the producer.

    • Continuous certification no longer applies to CRP. Previously, a producer could come in in year one of the CRP contract. They could go ahead and do a certification, saying that the land was in CRP. That would continuously certify for the entire 10 years.This is no longer allowed.Instead, the producer is going to have to come in every single year and they are going to have to certify that the land is being maintained in the CRP.

    • Over the next three years, the most CRP acres expiring that FSA has ever had in the last 10 years means that when we do have these general sign-ups that they are going to be very large.We are going to see a whole lot of producers come in. It is going to be a pretty large workload for both FSA and NRCS.

    • State acres for wildlife enhancement, which is also known as SAFE. It was a fact sheet that went out in 2019. You can come up with these species of wildlife entities are endangered, threatened, or it is of economic value. So, you all can go ahead and create this safe initiative. To meet the requirements for that safe initiative, then you need to refer to bullet number two, which is the CRP notice 897.

    • The three projects that we currently have are the mixed grass prairie restoration and lesser prairie chicken.We have the lower Rio Grande Valley thorn scrub restoration. That is going to be for the ocelot. Then we have the Gulf Coast prairies.This covers a number of species of birds to include some docs and other species like that. They are located in that Gulf Coast region.

    • New projects or recommendations for 2021 or 2022. Next December producers will get additional points and they can then be signed up underneath either CRP general, depending on the CRP practices, or under CRP continuous, and it would be for these state projects. If there is additional new projects that want to be recommended, they can do that before our deadline. It must go through the stack by June 15th. Then the STC has to review it and it has to go on to the national office by June 20th.

    • There was a major change to the Conservation Programs

      • the emergency conservation program. With it, up in the Panhandle we have had some pretty significant fires and they burned up miles of fence. They now put in place a 25% advance payment for fencing.

      • increased cost share level for qualified participants, looking at beginning farmers, primarily.

      • "wildfire" was added as an eligible disaster event. Only about 1% of fires are naturally made, so we would have to submit a waiver for electrical lines from high wind and dry conditions.Usually those waivers would get approved. So, this is pretty much removed that out, so wildfire is now in eligible disaster event and it makes the process more streamlined.

      • payment limitation has increased to $500,000. previously $200,000 per entity per disaster I.D. Now it is going to be increased to $500,000, which will currently help our producers.

      • the primary nesting season is March 1st through June 1st for grazing.

    • Cost share policies are currently being updated. We are trying to streamline it, so we are speaking the same language between the two sister agencies. This will also help our producers. It also helps new employees. So, when NRCS tells you that you are going to do382for fencing, or whatever that comes to FSA, then the we will also be saying that it is at 382, and that will be what actually goes on the forms and thingsthat we will put on the CRP 1. We want our rates to be comparable between FSA and NRCS.We will make sure that we will work hand-in-hand with NRCS to make sure our ECP and CRP rates are closely aligned

    • EBI and the national ranking factors- Counties are restricted to a 25% cropland limitation, then they also have to compete for the EBI and to get enough points so that they can qualify for CRP. They make a recommendation for what is known as CPAs. And these are your priority areas. The recommendation is to create a CRP subcommittee within the stack with a deadline July 1.

    • Notice CRP 897 announcing requests for new and modified state acres are wildlife enhancement proposals.It provides the deadlines and the dates that we have to have everything up to the national office. Also, the process of getting it from the partners, through the STAC, to the FSA, state committee, and then on up to the conservation division. Previously, it was subjected to only 25% of the counties in the state of Texas could be under a SAFE project. However, that has been removed. So, there is a limitation on the number of acres or the number of counties that would fall underneath one of these SAFE projects. So, with that, I would probably recommend that we would have a larger, Lesser Prairie Chicken area that would include, instead of just 10 areas, but the entire county.

    • As far as emergency grazing - producers were coming in for emergency grazing. If the county wants to go ahead and implement for emergency grazing, it would be emergency during the nesting season which would not be allowed. It would probably get denied.Outside of the primary nesting season, it is the easy one. If you know what county you are bringing that up for, I can reach out and talk to those counties.

    • With the cotton board are you aware there is a collaborative board with Cotton Incorporated and Quail Forever/Pheasants Forever? A relationship with cotton producers for habitat on marginal cotton production land. Since Texas is the largest cotton producing state, producers want to rebuild bird populations. I'm not sure if the comment below is related to Shelley's question. They said Texas division and subcommittee are working on updates to the existing projects.And you can contact him to be involved.

      • Those go hand in hand. The state office is not going to build the proposals.The way the proposal is supposed to come up is going to be from partners.It has to come from the ground up with data and technical expertise. Bottom-up. Once it gets to our level verifying recommendation and requirements. Then we will send to national office for approval.

Open Discussion

  • Texas Small Farms and Ranchers with Ike Mills
    • Funding to be made available in terms of creative ways to get access to funding to assist with programs for socially disadvantaged farms, ranchers.

    • Our summit each year keeps growing because were trying to reach people you otherwise could not reach.Predominately black farmers, ranchers in the state of East Texas.

    • Provide outreach effort going into areas the agency sometimes doesn't have people, staffing.

Questions

  • Will there be a recording of this meeting?

    • Yes, you will be able to access this meeting using the link that was sent out to get on. There will be a recording available. You will also be able to download the presentations, documents which Jeff, Lori referred to. The action items are on there as well.

  • Will public comments be part of the public record?

    • Yes. Closed captioning service, they are captioning everything on their as well.

  • What is the process to serve on one of the committees?

    • Contacting the committee chair or government representative.

    • Back in 2019, the President allocated performers to legislatures. Do we know how much of that went to socially disadvantaged ranchers and farmers and what was the process? From what I understand, a certain portion of money was going to the state agriculture commission.My question is, will this be funding that will be allocated to such as NRCS and other state agencies as well or do we know?

      • The money you are referring to as part of the support for trade and balances. NRCS did not receive funding.It was 2 separate bills passed or orders signed to release funding. I believe the majority went out through sister agencies as well as other USDA agencies. The majority went out as price support payments.I don't know if Gary is on or the program chief is still on as far as if there is data available on the payments.I will have to defer to them. This is the Farm Service Agency. I have to see if we have releasable data.If we do, I will get it to you.

  • Clint Evans provided closing comments and the meeting was adjourned.

STAC Action Items_FSA (PDF; 174KB)

STAC Action Items_FA Programs (PDF; 1MB)