The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Indiana continued its conservation work across the state despite a tough 2020 marked with a pandemic and several natural disasters. The agency helped farmers and forest landowners implement conservation practices on their working lands, which help conserve natural resource such as soil, water and wildlife as well as boost producers’ bottom lines. Additionally, NRCS launched new online tools that increased the efficiency, effectiveness and delivery of crucial programs.
“Despite facing a myriad of challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Indiana NRCS was able to have a lasting impact on the working lands throughout the state,” said Jerry Raynor, NRCS State Conservationist in Indiana. “Our entire Indiana NRCS staff worked tirelessly to find creative ways to work with producers in the state and continue implementing conservation practices alongside our farmers and forest landowners. This year showed that no matter the obstacles, NRCS will continue helping people to help the land.”
Key highlights from 2020 include:
Conservation Delivery Amid Pandemic: NRCS continued to deliver services during the COVID-19 pandemic using social distance guidelines, phone and online tools. This year, NRCS worked with producers and communities to:
Develop more than 100,000 conservation plans nationally.
Soil Health: NRCS continued to prioritize adoption of soil health management systems. In fiscal year 2020, NRCS provided financial assistance to help producers plant cover crops on 18 million acres and to no-till 7.3 million acres. This includes 270,623 acres of cover crops and 119,682 acres of no-till in Indiana. Additionally, NRCS rolled out a new Soil Health Toolbox, which offered useful tools to demonstrate how soil functions and to help guide management decisions that will improve soil health with NRCS conservation practices.
Water Quality: NRCS continued its investments in targeted water quality initiatives, which increase the return on investment in terms of improving water quality in priority waterways. Indiana NRCS continued its work through the National Water Quality Initiative, Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, Western Lake Erie Basin and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which combined to impact 13,039 acres in Indiana in 2020.
Wildlife Habitat: Farmers and forestland owners across state have continued their work on managing for habitat on working lands. From the early successional forest regeneration in southwest Indiana to the statewide monarch butterfly habitat development program, Indiana producers are making a difference for wildlife. Indiana NRCS has also teamed up with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to continue to expand grassland bird conservation throughout the state with the Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s (RCPP) Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds project. In fiscal year 2020, Indiana NRCS invested nearly $2 million dollars on 2,877 acres for wildlife habitat.
Online Tools and Resources: NRCS and the Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center rolled out a new decision tool this year for producers on farmers.gov. The Conservation Concerns Tool enables landowners to learn about conservation concerns that might impact their agricultural operations, then search for solutions targeted to fit their business needs. Producers can also find a new video series called Conservation at Work that spotlights how producers are using key conservation practices. In addition to finding information, producers can also log into farmers.gov to manage their conservation business online. During the past year, key functions from NRCS’s Conservation Client Gateway were moved to the farmers.gov portal to provide one place where producers can manage all their USDA business online.
Partnerships and Innovation: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program continued to rally partners to help increase the reach of conservation and support the development of new tools, approaches, practices and technologies to further natural resource conservation on private lands. Indiana NRCS invested more than $600,000 in conservation practices throughout the state in 2020 through RCPP, which impacted 5,530 acres. These included initiatives in the Big Pine watershed, soil health projects on reclaimed mine land, Grasslands for Game/Songbirds, phosphorus reduction in Western Lake Erie and work in the Southern Indiana Young Forest.
2018 Farm Bill Implementation: NRCS made tremendous strides in implementing the 2018 Farm Bill in the past year. NRCS published final rules for EQIP and CSP this fall and is preparing to publish final rules for ACEP and RCPP. Additionally, NRCS completed and published updates to its set of National Conservation Practice Standards, which includes 58 standards. The 2018 Farm Bill required review all 169 of its national conservation practices to seek opportunities to increase flexibility and incorporate new technologies.
NRCS is a part of the Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area at USDA. Other 2020 highlights can be found here.
All USDA Service Centers are open for business, including those that restrict in-person visits or require appointments. All visitors wishing to conduct business with NRCS or any other Service Center agency should call ahead and schedule an appointment. Service Centers that are open for appointments will pre-screen visitors based on health concerns or recent travel, and visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Visitors are also required to wear a face covering during their appointment. Our program delivery staff will continue to work with our producers by phone, email and using online tools. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus.