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STC Minutes

Meeting Minutes

New Jersey State Technical Committee

State Technical Committee Meeting minutes are available in Adobe Reader format.


Natural Resources Conservation Service

New Jersey State Technical Committee

220 Davidson Avenue 4th Floor, Somerset, NJ 08873

Meeting Date: Wednesday, December, 2, 2020
Meeting Location: Virtual

(PDF File)

 

Julie Hawkins opened the Microsoft TEAMS at 9:01. The meeting was convened by Christine Hall. She welcomed everyone and thanked them for their participation in the State Technical Committee.

Those present include:

Amy Hansen

Eric Schrading Liz Matseur
Andrew Burnett Frank DeFiccio Michael Flood
Austin Damminger Gail Bartok Michael Westendorf
Bill Angstadt Jairo Gonzalez Michelle Pedano
Brian Cowden Jay Springer Mitchell Mickley
Brian Schilling Jim Simon Nagisa Manabe
Bridgett Hilshey John Kluthe Nancy Coles
Brittany Dobrzynski John Parke Nicholas Saumweber
Cali Alexander Jon Klischies Nicole Ciccaglione
Christine Hall Julie Hawkins Robert Nyman
Clare Flanagan Kaitlin Farbotnik Rosalynd Orr
Danielle Bara Kathy Hale Sharon Petzinger
Dave Clapp Ken Klipstein Stefanie Miller
David Lamm Kristen Meistrell Stephanie Murphy
Edwin Muniz Kristin Adams Tara Walker
Elizabeth Freiday Laura Tessieri Tina Notas
Elizabeth McShane Lauren Finnegan Trish Long
Emily Blackman Lauren Lapczynski Virginia Lamb

9:05 Meeting Logistics Review - Christine Hall, NRCS

Christine Hall shared how to use Microsoft TEAMS to go about asking questions via the chat window as well as using the raise hand function. She indicated in the essence of time management, rather than having all participants introduce themselves verbally, she would prefer those people to announce themselves and their position in the chat.

9:11 April Meeting Minutes review and acceptance: Correct minutes as needed & review action items - Christine Hall, NRCS

Christine Hall shared how to find past minutes on the website and addressed the previous meeting’s action items.

9:14 2020 Program Year in Review, Gail Bartok, NRCS

FY20 Programs Factsheet

Link to Presentation

Gail Bartok went over Agricultural Conservation Easements (ACEP) for FY20 and described their subsections: Agricultural Land and Wetlands Reserve (and then broke out the Wetlands Reserve Easements affiliated with the RCPP as a separate line item). The ACEP ALE provided $345,679 to three parcel contracts on a total of 134 acres, the ACEP WRE including restoration provided $720,462 to three parcel contracts on a total of 122 acres, and the ACEP WRE in affiliation with RCPP provided $$176,741 to one parcel contract on a total of 19 acres. Easements that were funded in previous years but had closed during the FY2020 include: ACEP ALE (three General and four RCPP), ACEP WRE (three), and Restored (two WRE and one WRP).

In FY20, NRCS provided funding to the following initiatives: Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA) with $43,856 for five contracts, Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) with $79,723 for five contracts, Conservation Stewardship Program (GCI) with $9,290 for five contracts, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with $5,402,168 for 227 contracts. One note about the GCI is this program was new for FY2020 and only certain land was eligible for this program.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s (EQIP) National Special Initiatives had not changed from the previous fiscal year. They include National Water, Organic, On-Farm Energy, as well as Working Lands for Wildlife (specifically the Golden Winged Warbler). The state and local EQIP fund pools haven’t changed much since FY19, apart from Aquaculture, which was brought back in FY20. The below-listed state and local initiatives all fell within the usual spending, except for the Energy Initiative as we had no takers this year, and the Bobwhite Quail, which has increased significantly due to partnering with a biologist.

Socially Disadvantaged/Beginning Farmers were provided $112,435 for seven contracts, The Energy Initiative provided $0.00 for zero contracts. The Organic Initiative provided $588,722 for five contracts. The National Water Quality Initiative provided $363,786 for nine contracts, The Soil Health Initiative provided $74,184 for five contracts. Aquaculture provided $152,218 for two contracts. The Conversation Activity Plans provided $125,696 for 67 contracts. The Working Lands for Wildlife provided $100,001 for four contracts. The Bobwhite Quail provided $121,069 for eight contracts. The American Black Duck provided $17,715 for two contracts. The High Tunnel provided $111,755 for 10 contracts.

Questions:

  • John asked if these numbers are a result of the meeting in Columbus and the outreach - which Gail Bartok answered yes to.Nagisa requested information about the Organic Initiative.
  • Gail Bartok responded: Two components: offer assistance to transition to organic and for people who are already certified organic. 
  • Eric asked about aquaculture – what practices the two contracts were for. Fran came back with answers: Restoration of Rare and Declining Natural Communities and Bio Valve. Christine Hall chimed in with a few examples: Delaware Bay Shore producers concerned with horseshoe crab movement concerning protecting red knot bird species and implemented rack replacement to raised racks, shell placement to create reef habitat.
  • Laura: Do you ever release the top 20 programs differentiated between the planned amount vs dollar amount? Gail said not usually but we could if the group would like to see it and asked for anyone interested to please indicate as such in the chat.

Regional Conversation Partnership Program (RCPP) allows each partnership agreement to have Farm Bill dollars held in place. In addition to the Farm Bill dollars they also have EQIP money available as well. The Delaware River still has money available because they did not advertise the program due to new policy rules and tools they were late in getting to NRCS. The Whole Farms Systems, Columbia Dam, and Black River Greenway still have funding available as well. The Delaware Bay and Raritan Basin have both been completed in FY20 and no longer have funds available.

Using Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART), planners go to farms and assess to determine things like what resource concerns exist and which areas to address. This is recorded into CART and then moves to ranking (RT). The RT phase takes a long time but is the heart of what the NRCS is all about. FY20 had a state total of 361 assessments completed, broken down into the field office locations: Columbus – 45, Freehold – 33, Frenchtown – 57, Hackettstown – 116, Vineland – 25, and Woodstown – 85.

Christine Hall sent out, via the chat window, a copy of today’s agenda to help keep everyone on point.

9:42 2021 NRCS Program Changes - Gail Bartok and Christine Hall, NRCS

Link to Presentation

Allocations:

Gail Bartok showed the expected funding in dollar value for each of the programs in FY21:

ACEP – ALE $2,457,221.00, ACEP – WRE (General and Bog Turtle) - $497,938.00, ACEP – WRE Stewardship $62,938.00, AMA - $203,000.00, EQIP - $5,609,000.00, EQIP – NWQI $349,826, and EQIP – WLFW specifically Golden Winged Warbler (GWW) $70,000.00.

**Big news on ALE** – Since the Farm Bill passed in 2018, they have had to negotiate a new deed for closing ally parcels. SADC and HQ worked together to finally get an approved deed template to close “Farm Bill 2018 Parcels." This template was approved by National HQ in November 2020 and is on the agenda for approval at the December SADC meeting. The parcels have been sparse in previous years, but this deed shouldn’t hold up the process anymore. There is no current deadline for the ALE and WRE signups yet (as we are waiting for the final policy to be published). Please look for a news release from Lauren Finnegan on the specifics and dates.

Questions:

Cali - Does this reflect increase (same appropriation) in total funding? Gail said WRE is lower, which is usually $700-$800k, everything else is normal.

Sharon - Is the GWW lower than previous years and if so, why? Gail said yes, it is a little lower than normal. Fran also added: we started out with a 50k allocation, then it was increased, and later decreased. We are nowhere near the 50K we started with. You can add to any national initiative with your own allocations but cannot take unused national initiative and put it into your general allocation. You would have to send it back if it was unused.

Applications:

NRCS had an EQIP signup deadline in November and the following information was compiled before the deadline closing. In total there were 367 applications throughout the state, then broken down into both sections of the state as well as field offices: North Jersey - 177 applications (Hackettstown - 131, Frenchtown - 46), Central - 62 applications (Columbus - 28, Freehold - 34), and South Jersey - 128 applications (Woodstown - 93, Vineland - 35).

Ranking Pools:

The list provided is the same from FY20 as it will be in FY21:

Organic, Energy, Aquaculture, American Black Duck, Begging Farmer/Socially Disadvantaged, Bobwhite Quail, Golden Winged Warbler, Soil Health, High Tunnel, NWQI (Upper Salem, Upper Cohansey), Conservations Activity Plans (CAPS) Forestry, CNMP, NMP, Other), Central (Forestry/Wildlife, Livestock, Local Workgroup), North (Forestry/Wildlife, Livestock, Water Quality), and South (Forestry/Wildlife, Livestock, Local Workgroup).

In the past few years, NRCS has had problems both getting applications for AMA as well as spending our allocations because we are mandated by congress to spend 50% EQIP money on livestock. We don’t want to fund livestock through AMA. We want to diversify our clients, thus allowing us to spend more of our allocation. As a result, NRCS has decided to fund Cropland and High Tunnels (prioritizing those that don’t currently have a tunnel in addition to the square footage of high tunnels that currently exist, HU applicants, non-profit organizations, proximity to areas of low food access, and distance to market) in FY21. One note to mention is we do not fund structural practices through AMA like diversions and waterways; that would have to go under EQIP.

In FY20 part of the Farm Bill says states can offer up to ten high-priority practices and those practices would receive an additional cost-share percent. For example: if Conservation Cover was previously listed at 75% the new bill would allow up to 90%. Christine Hall had convened a subcommittee in addition to canvasing field employees and DC’s to see which practices were not selling well and they were unable to utilize that information to compile a more up-to-date list. The committee didn’t have time to analyze how effective a higher payment rate was. This resulted in the top ten practices for FY21 being the same as FY20: Conversation Cover, Diversion, Grassed Waterway, Lined Waterway or Outlet, Waste Storage Facility, Critical Area Planting, Underground Outlet, Roofs and Covers, Stream Crossing, and Grade Stabilization Structures.

Questions:

  • Dave: Regarding AMA – at one point we were limited to certain regions of the state. Is that still part of the AMA process or will that be statewide? Gail answered: FY20 we offered AMA in the North, FY19 we offered AMA in the Central, FY18 we offered AMA in the South. Those were no good so FY21 will be open statewide.

Source Water Protected Areas:

The 2018 Farm Bill included a provision to identify Source Water Protection Areas and then offer a higher payment rate for practices that can address the water quality concerns in those areas. NRCS has been working for the past few months with volunteers in the State Technical Committee as well as the NJ Water Supply Advisory Council’s Farm Bill Subcommittee (which included partners from DEP, EPA, Water Supply Advisory Council, NJ Water Supply Authority, North Jersey Arts, D&D, Rutgers Eco Complex, NJ Water Association, Water Utilities, and others) to put the map into place. The subcommittee was able to identify 49 HUCs and 12 watersheds.

The minimum map unit you can identify for protection is Hydrologic Units 12 digit (HUC12). We have 271 HUC12 in the state of New Jersey with an average size of 22,509 acres.

Source water (drinking water) was the first item addressed. They looked at basins and watersheds that withdrew over one million gallons per day and color-coded them pink. The map was given a layover of medium green to cross-reference the agriculture aspect to see where we can make a difference (with an initial identifying mark of 20% agriculture to the area).

Groundwater was the second item addressed. They looked at wellhead protection areas first and color-coded them green. The areas of blue designate both ground and surface water as high priority areas.

Source Water Protection opportunities in NJ are submitted to HQ with what are the high priority areas to focus on (and by focusing we can bring the higher cost-share). Areas identified as a high priority for extra funding could not exceed 20% of New Jersey.

A special initiative this year relates to highly erodible land. The NRCS is proposing a Fund Pool dedicated to helping producers to allow them an opportunity to access funding when needed to stay in compliance. By keeping these producers compliant it allows them to be eligible for other programs through USDA. Some of those programs include but are not limited to: Agriculture Loss Coverage (ARC), Price Loss Coverage (PLC), Market Facilitation Programs (MFP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

In 2016 an audit was performed and found NRCS provided conflicting guidance which in turn caused inconsistent compliance and unclear national policy. NRCS’s response was to clarify the compliance requirements through the Food Security Act HEL Provision by giving clear, descript information as well as working with producers to correct the issue without notifying FSA. Also, a conservation plan must be developed, agreed-to, and signed within 45 days of the non-compliance findings. This plan must be implemented within one year or NRCS would need to report the non-compliance to the Farm Service Agency (FSA). During that time, however, the producer is not considered out of compliance as they are actively working with NRCS.

Questions/Comments:

  • Brittany - Is the wellhead protection shape file available through Geofile data internally? This information was not available previously but has since been uploaded to the share drive.
  • Dave - With the HEL Fund Pool – is the intent with that more of a rolling application that wouldn’t have an October cutoff whereas before you would have to wait until the next October to reapply? Christine said this is the intent, but they are still working on specifics (especially regarding the final fiscal quarter). 
  • Dave - With that, would there be a ranking deadline that needs to be met or set a minimum score? Right now, when a farmer has an issue, they are instructed to use certain programs through NRCS, but implantation could take almost a year from that point. Christine says that is part of the details that need to be ironed out but indicated Fran or Gail may have more knowledge on the subject. Fran chimed in saying she and Gail are putting together a working group to help the process for FY21 with the hopes of turning it into automatic funding for FY22.
  • Laura – regarding the Highly Erodible Fund Pool (HEL) – when would it start? Fran indicated that would be next FY but then clarified it would start FY21. What types or levels of assistance would the producers be eligible for? Christine said the cost-share rate would be the same. 
  • Mitchell - provided a PSA: some wells have been decommissioned and new wells drilled since that wellhead protection area shape file had been generated.  Like all things, not perfect, but a good start.  Confined wells won’t have the "ice cream cone" of protection tiers like Christine mentioned earlier.  They show as a solitary yellow dot in that case.
  • Kaitlin wanted to address the audit results from 2016 and asked what could be done. By utilizing outreach and joint training with FFA they have taken on a pilot initiative from out west and brought it to New Jersey to try and implement it.

10:25 NRCS Easement Programs, Lauren Lapczynski, and Gail Bartok, NRCS

Link to Presentation

NRCS sent out an email in October about the proposed team’s FY21 Geographic Area Rate Cap. The new rates proposed are 90% of the appraised fair market value for general WRE applications and 95% of the appraised fair market value for Bog Turtle WRE applications. We use a percentage of the fair market value in the WRE program to capture what we anticipate the cap to be. In previous years the NRCS used an Area Wide Market Analysis (AWMA) to come up with those rates. The AWMA typically costs between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. In FY20 we were unable to use AWMA rates because most of our parcels did not fit the restrictive acre criteria set by our National Appraiser. Therefore, NJ had to pay for appraisals on three of the four parcels. Appraisals can be very time-consuming so for FY21 we are trying to set up a purchase agreement with a local appraiser so that the contracting process will move a bit faster.

10:30 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Nick Saumweber, NRCS

Link to Presentation

NJ State Allocation Fund partnership is broken down into two categories: Contribution, where the partner pays a percentage of the funding, and Co-operative, where NRCS pays 100% of the funding.

There are a few agreements that come down from National HQ. Most are one year agreements. These agreements can apply for another one year extension if National is still active.

NRCS has the option of entering into an agreement if it is mutual beneficial to both parties. Currently NRCS is open to suggestions for partnerships. We must make sure it is an agreement the partner can put in 25% and not a co-op (where NRCS pays 100% as they are no longer authorized to do so).

RCPP was designed to take NRCS experience & funding and leverage them with partners experience & funding in order to prioritize projects we are currently working on in New Jersey. The funding cycle closed in November and NRCS received five proposals requesting a total of 4.5 million dollars. NRCS will make a state recommendation using information provided in the form of “review and feedback” to highlight which proposals fit the high priority list. Ultimately funding does come from HQ and therefore the final say is theirs, specifically the NRCS Chief. This decision should be finalized by February and at that point proposals will go into negotiations to execute a Programmatic Partnership Agreement (PPA). This PPA will address the deliverables, clarification of expectations, and will include a supplemental PPA between NRCS and the partner, should the partner need to request technical assistance or money as part of their proposal. Final execution of the agreement is expected sometime during the summer of 2021.

New sign-up dates: alternative funding signup in the spring and then the next round of RCPP around the same time in calendar year 2021. These alternative funding signups are designated for specific people with specific purposes. In other fund pools there may be geographical restrictions that make the funding unavailable. These alternative funding options are there to fill in those deficits and specify eligibility, land, and practices.

Questions:

  • Mitch asked for a list of the high priority areas for the source water. Christine indicated a fact sheet needed to be created and will be reaching out for feedback from eligible parties.
  • Rosalynd asked if the source water information was available internally. Christine tasked Trish with making sure that information is available.

10:57 Conservation Innovations Grants (CIG), Christine Hall, NRCS

Link to Presentation

This is one of the only true grant programs from a definition standpoint. This competitive program supports the development of new tools, approaches, practices, and technologies to further natural resource conversation on private lands. Components of these grants include national competition with larger scope projects and high dollar value projects, on farm trials (which is relatively new), and state competition (can allocate funds to offer a larger competition). The Conservation Innovations Grant (CIG) was offered annually until 2019 when it was switched to every other year. In FY21 $200,000 will be allocated for the NJ CIG grants, whereas in the past, the allocation only allowed a maximum of $75,000.000 per project. However, 1:1 contribution is still required.

NRCS has five current projects and two closed grants that are still waiting for deliverables (soil health and cover crop). Current projects: Rutgers University - Recycling Irrigation Water at NJ Nurseries, North Jersey RC&D - Cover Crop Experimentation, Conserve Wildlife Foundation - Quantifying Impacts of Innovative Conservation Systems, North Jersey RC&D - Use of Short Season Variety Corn and Soybean, and Groundwork Elizabeth - Developing an Urban Conservation Farm.

NRCS will be moving forward with the FY21 CIG and is looking for ideas of what priority areas we should be focused on. Historically, projects focused on water quality, soil quality, energy, wildlife, invasive species, water quantity, urban agriculture, outreach, forestry, and grazing. When narrowing down your idea please keep in mind; what is important to NRCS and what can we pick up and run with. Internally among staff a few ideas have been generated: soil health (such as develop economic analysis of cropping and integrating new technology), climate adaptation (develop innovative practices to mitigate coastal marsh migration), water quality/quantity (quantify changes to erosion rates and runoff volume), urban agriculture, and historically underserved producers (improved outreach).

Questions:

  • John: From a state and private perspective, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in nutrient management. We should see if we can use that as part of the focus. Christine asked if the barrier could be overcome with better outreach or those types of assistance. John agrees and thinks as long as people know about the programs and what is available that should help.
  • Julie spoke about different grant opportunities from the 2018 Farm Bill (National Conservation and National Urban).
  • Nagisa suggested a “chat-storm” – comment your idea, and said NOFA Mass is doing good work on Urban Soil remediation, with so many urban areas in NJ, it would be great. Also, urban high tunnels as a subset of urban farming. Also interested in pest management with our changing climate, specifically nematodes as a solution to pest management challenges.
  • Fran brought up a previous question – for Christine – Brian asked if matching funds were non-federal or does that matter? Christine said historically CIG matching has been non-federal but is unsure if there were any changes in National. Fifty-fifty non-federal was usually the way it ran. 
  • Bridgett suggested Precision Nutrient Management and Adaptive Management.
  • Jim said Urban Ag encompasses soil health, HU, and climate adaptation. Would also parallel new National NRCS urban Ag & innovation grants. Also, management for croplands implementing soil health practices.
  • Virginia commented soil health for climate mitigation via carbon drawdown. Nutrient management as tool for reducing related GHG emissions, soil health to include compost additions across the board, which would also address waste reduction.
  • Kristen brought up aquaculture.
  • Kaitlin – some of the suggestions are in EQIP in Management. Mini-research project has funding that can be used.
  • Cali said more demonstration field days (when safe and possible) the better.
  • Sharon said there are a lot of discussions about forestry and climate change/carbon storage, to the point where some people are arguing that incentives to cut trees go against climate change. It would be good to quantify the benefits of forest management on carbon sequestration rates and forest ecosystem services.
  • Stephanie M. said she agreed with ideas for carbon sequestration/increasing soil health with Organic Matter improvements, and adaptive nutrient management. Also, soil health/remediation in urban ag.
  • Michelle thought the use of dredge materials (from intracoastal waterways) on ag land. Maybe some demonstration sites.  We periodically get calls on this subject.
  • Mitchell suggested watering edible crops with reclaimed water. https://watereuse.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Edible-Crop-White-Paper.pdf

11:13 National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), Rosalynd Orr and Christine Hall, NRCS

Link to Presentation

The NWQI provides national funds to implement practices that would address water quality. Since 2012 NRCS has been involved with NWQI and three watersheds located in South Jersey were chosen to use some of the funding that was allocated: Upper Salem, Upper Alloway, and Upper Cohansey. In 2019 National HQ released a bulletin updating requirements for watershed funding. This bulletin stated a watershed plan or assessment is needed and must meet National NRCS criteria. Existing NWQI watershed plans must be submitted for review and approval.  After reviewing the current watersheds chosen, Upper Salem and Upper Cohansey already had an existing watershed assessment and were submitted for review. Additional information was needed to meet requirements (specifically identification of critical source, NEPA documentation and compliance, and outreach plan). The Upper Alloway did not have an existing watershed assessment. Due to limited resources the Upper Alloway watershed was removed as a NWQI watershed for FY20.

FY21 National HQ sent out a bulletin in April 2020 highlighting new requirements for NWQI watersheds. All states must designate a minimum of three watersheds in order to continue receiving funding. An assessment was made at the HUC12 level to receive the NWQI funding of existing watersheds that have some type of plan to build off of to meet requirements. NRCS solicited the Tech Committee for ideas during the April meeting.

Accomplishments and plans for FY21: After reviewing the plans from Rutgers Extension on the existing watersheds it was determined that there were a few missing components, such as official critical source areas.  This first step of reviewing targeted areas in the Upper Salem and Upper Cohansey was to identify those areas that have the highest levels of total phosphorus and bacteria. The second step involved NRCS collaborating with NJDEP Bureau of Freshwater and Biological Monitoring Staff to analyze more recent water sampling data and identify sub-watersheds with high levels of TOP and bacteria.

Another missing component was a formal outreach plan. A four faceted general outreach plan was created for both Upper Salem and Upper Cohansey stating the NRCS would put together an initial scope and meeting for any interested partners to identify concerns about the program and to further educate those involved to sell those efforts. Field staff would be required at this point to do field tours to highlight conservation practices. We would have field staff do direct targeted outreach like cold calling or stopping by the farms to provide support if necessary.

Upper Salem – FY21 plans has been submitted, approved, and funded (a total of $50,000 between Upper Salem and Upper Cohansey). Below is the map of the four areas chosen based on findings from Rutgers Watershed Assessment Plan and current data from NJ DEP. 

To address the new quantity requirements to the NWQI, two new watersheds have been decided on in Northern New Jersey: Mulhockaway-Spruce Run and Lower Musconetcong.

Mulhockaway-Spruce Run is located mostly in Hunterdon County and will be serviced by the Frenchtown Field Office. The NJ Water Supply Authority (NJWS) developed a watershed plan for most of the HUC12 location and expressed interest in updating the assessment plan and identifying it as a priority for source water protection. This location is currently in the planning phase. $30,000 in funding from National was allocated to complete the plan. Once the plan is complete and revised (to update the existing watershed plan to meet NRCS criteria) a determination needs to be discussed as to whether NRCS or NJWSA have the resources or if an outside contractor would be needed.

Musconetcong is located within Warren and Hunterdon Counties and will be serviced by Hackettstown and Frenchtown Field Offices. The North Jersey RC&D and Musconetcong Watershed Association have been chosen as choices for partnership in updating the assessment plan and identifying it as a priority for outreach, grant funding, and project implementation. This location is currently in the planning phase. $30,000 in funding from National was allocated to complete the plan. Once the plan is complete and revised (to update the existing watershed plan to meet NRCS criteria) a determination needs to be discussed as to whether NRCS, NJWSA, or RC&D have the resources or if an outside contractor would be needed.

11:26 Soil Health Activities, Kaitlin Farbotnik, NRCS

Link to Presentation

This year the scope has changed from just cropland to include Sub/Urban as well as Forestry. Stephanie Murphy from Rutgers Soil Testing Lab will be taking the lead on Sub/Urban and Brittany Dobrzynski from NJ Audubon will be taking the lead on Forestry. With the expanded scopes identified, a steering committee is being discussed so that all leads can convene and track progress. There is a Google Drive that has been setup for information, timelines, contact material, etc. If anyone wants to join there is still time to do so. Please contact Kaitlin as well as adding your name on the excel spreadsheet contact list located within the Google Drive.

The Cropland Chapter is broken down into three subcommittees and has three phases. Once phase one is completed, the plan is to start phase two, at the same time for all parties involved, so the different subcommittees will need to work closely together.

Phase 1 (all should be completed by the end of December 2020)

  • Social Trends – Nick Saumweber, NRCS, and Bridgett Hilshey, NJ RC&D

  • Baseline Inventory – Bill Angstadt, Growmark FS, and Rosalynd Orr, NRCS

  • Resource Inventory – Kaitlin Farbotnik, NRCS (with the help of Edwin Muniz and Trish Long, NRCS)

The Soil Health Management Conservation Activity Plan (CAP116) helps producers transition to a complete soil health management system within a three year plan. Unfortunately there are no templates for this, this isn’t a “one size fits all” scenario. We are looking for a Technical Service Provider (TSP) to create plans for the practices. TSP’s will need a special skill set of technical and practical knowledge. If anyone has any interest in becoming a TSP please contact Nancy Paolini and she will assist in the process of sign up in the system for training and certification.

Soil Testing Activity (216) is an activity (not a practice or plan) that provides financial assistance to those doing very in-depth soil tests. Some of the things they look for within the test is soil organic carbon content, wet macro-aggregate stability, respiration using a four day incubation, active carbon, bioavailable nitrogen, pH and EC, and micro and macro nutrients. Right now not all testing sites are open and available but once the test is completed at an approved laboratory the results will be correlated by NRCS soil scientists based on location, climate, and actual soil type.

Carbon Amendments (CPS808) is a practice designed for people to intentionally apply organic matter like wood chips and Biochar to their soil and get paid for it -- but it must meet requirements set forth within the standard. Restrictions on those items include, but are not limited to, very high P-Index value, soil and landscape characteristics that might prevent this practice from being applied, and cannot be used for the application of biosolids unless biosolids are mixed with other material.

There will be an internal meeting on December 21st to review the new opportunities with the Soil Health Division and NRCS. Pennsylvania received an invite to this meeting as well. The meeting will discuss outreach, planning, and implementation of these new practices as well as training for the new TSP’s. If anyone is interested in receiving more information please comment in the chat box and someone will follow up to provide information.

Carbon arming updates are brought to us by Christine Hall. A Carbon Farming Workshop was held at Duke Farms in November 2019. Duke, Farm Euro, Secretary of AG, Dean Goodman from Rutgers School of Environmental Science, our State Conserv. Carrie all took park in this field workshop. NRCS has been keeping busy within this practice of carbon farming. One of the things NRCS did was host had a call between NRCS staff, SADC, and NJDA to discuss programs, opportunities, and long reach strategies. In addition to the workshop NRCS is also looking at collaborating between Plant Material Center, USGS, and NJAES to work with farmers to evaluate their impact on the operation relating to climate change and sea level rise. Usually there are plans to visit the farms and get direct feedback from the farmers but due to COVID-19 this in-person activity has been placed on hold.  

The New Jersey Climate Change Alliance (NJCCA) has been working with NRCS staff participating in the Natural and Working Land Workgroup. One of the key roles NRCS has been playing is serving as a crosswalk between activities to alleviate double work and streamline processes. The purpose of this work group is to identify opportunities for the Climate Change Alliance to advance theses science-informed climate change strategies at the state and local levels.

Through the work via AG Experiment Stations NJCCA learned NRCS has an employee who is an atmospheric scientist working out of Colorado and is the keeper of the atmospheric data -- Adam Chambers. Adam is able to provide the atmospheric benefit to programs in which NRCS is working. Since Adam is considered the West Coast division, Julie Hawkins has put in a request to implement the same application of providing atmospheric benefits to the programs in New Jersey. A meeting has been scheduled so hopefully by the time the next State Technical Meeting occurs, NRCS will be able to provide this additional information.

Questions:

  • Nagisa - She was unable to see the key at the bottom of the chart and asked for clarification. Christine explained that the bar graph shows the building blocks of important practices like soil health, grazing/pasture, nitrogen management, livestock, and Agriculture Forestry/Herbaceous/Wildlife.
  • Mitchell stated three watershed regions are at a water deficit (water quantity issue).
  • Lauren provided the link to the soil health strategic plan.

  • Edwin provided the link to Soil mass and grind size.

11:45 Farm Services Agency Program Update, Nancy Coles, NRCS

Link to Presentation

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was signed into law in 1985 and celebrates its’ 35th anniversary this month. It is one of the largest conservation programs within the state. The original primary function was to control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal land out of production. Since its' inception, it has migrated towards conservation and economic benefits.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was signed into law in 1985 and celebrates its’ 35th anniversary this month. It is one of the largest conservation programs within the state. The original primary function was to control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal land out of production. Since its' inception, it has migrated towards conservation and economic benefits.

On November 12, 2020, USDA announced the signup period for CRP and CRP Grasslands for FY21. General signup begins January 4, 2021 and ends Feb 12, 2021 (six week period). The signup period for CRP Grasslands is March 15, 2021 and ends April 23, 2021 (six week period). Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments on land devoted to land conservation practices.

In the list of the current conservation programs - there is a total of 340 contracts, 201 farms, and an average rental rate of $92.01/acre.

The CRP program has many facets. There is a general signup which opens in January and an open signup with no time restrictions for continuous practices and CREP. The Safe program used to be continuous only but now is general and continuous.

  • The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) currently has 257 contracts with 155 participating farms. The average rental rate for CREP is $146.88 per acre. This rate is higher because of incentives with enhancements.
  • State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) currently has 59 contracts with 46 participating farms. The Development of Landscape Scale Agricultural Heritage and Habitat Conservation Plans (NJAS) has 211.28 contract acres. The Grassland Habitat Restoration and Management program (CWF) has 335.75 contract acres. The Raritan-Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership (RPWHP) Implementation of Grassland Conversation Plan has 293.82 acres.
  • CRP Grasslands currently has a total of 4 contracts with 3 participating farms. The average rental rate for the CRP Grasslands is $18.87 per acre.

In total, the FY21 CRP payments issued were $165,206.00.

The active CRP contracts and easements are listed below in the table. Funding for these began in 2003 and ended in 2012. This was a joint effort between NRCS and FSA. At this time GRP payments have not been issued for FY21.

11:57 Local Workgroup Info for FY22, Nick Saumweber, NRCS

The purpose of local workgroups is to bring together our partners, clients, and farmers to identify priority resource concerns. Those concerns are then brought back to the State Technical Committee for review and prioritization. The last time a local work group convened was 2018 and had conducted a series of statewide meetings: two in the North, one in Central, and one in the South. Attendance fluctuated whereas some meetings had a great mix of partners and farmers while other meetings just had partners. The more participants the better the outcome. 

NRCS wants to solicit responses from the State Technical Committee to answer the questions: “How can we conduct local working groups this year?”, “How do we identify priority resource concerns?”, and “How would we rank priority resource concerns?“.

The State Technical Committee agreed that the previous meeting formats were adequate but acknowledged they might not be feasible in light of COVID-19. Many agreed that a questionnaire would be the best way to solicit feedback from our partners and farmers and that including a link to the questionnaire in correspondence that field office’s send might be the best choice for getting that information. In addition to the questionnaire, an informational video describing the process would be beneficial. Another suggestion would be to host an online seminar (but there are reservations about the effectiveness regarding the constituent’s participation).

A few suggestions:

  • Nagisa said the questionnaire is a great idea followed up by a seminar.

  • Elizabeth said a lot of people are using Zoom.

  • Virginia suggested the questionnaire.

  • Mitchell thinks TEAMS was a good digital platform and might be a good replacement for working group meetings.

  • Jim and Brittany think the questionnaire would reach more people instead of virtual participation.

  • Brittany asked if we could include, with the questionnaire, an EQIP signup for FY21.

  • Christine thinks the questionnaire could work but it would need to be well crafted. It would lose the benefit of being able to get explanations or further details. It would also need a lot of support from partners in promotion and follow-up.

  • Christine also said a video with producers giving their feedback about the programs and how effective they were would be a great tool. Maybe not for this round but something to keep in mind for the future.

  • John said the SADC meetings have excellent participation so we should reach out to them to see if they are doing anything different.

  • Elizabeth suggested hosting evening sessions as her previous experience with these seminars had great participation.

  • Virginia asked what quantity of surveys are we estimating to receive back? Nick indicated we want to paint a broad stroke to encompass as many producers and partners in the state as possible but want to limit it to agriculture.

  • Mitchell relayed that farmers are essential workers and have been meeting in person, in an open-air setting, following six-foot separation rules, and that this has been effective.

If NRCS decides to move forward with the questionnaire we would need to solicit a few volunteers from the State Technical Committee to go through the returned questionnaires and consolidate the information. A subsequent summary meeting would then take place with the entire State Technical Committee with the results identifying concerns.

12:11 New and Revised Conservation Practice Standards (CPS) for 2021, Christine Hall and David Lamm, NRCS

Link to Presentation

Conservation Practice Standards (CPSs) are the best management practices recommended and implemented with farmers. They are categorized into two parts: Ecological Sciences and Engineering.

The current process starts with the National Discipline lead updating practice standards and releasing to the state level. States then have 12 months to put the changes into place. State Technical Leads (STL) work to gather feedback and then issue the mandatory national changes that are approved.

We are looking for anyone on the State Tech Committee that wants to comment on the updates. Please let the STL know you are interested in reviewing/commenting by December 11, 2020. Updates will then be sent out by December 18, 2020. Your comments are due back no later than January 8, 2021. At that point all responses for all comments and questions will be completed and updated CPS’s will be posted by January 25, 2021.

Engineering Conservation Practices are reviewed every five years. This year, a total of 53 were reviewed.

Questions:

  • Christine - So many standards have been cracked open for revision – have you ever seen so many engineering practices requiring changes at one time? Dave indicated historically there are usually six practices, but he has seen up to 12 at one time. With the last farm bill release it was mandated that all practices be put up for comment and reviewed every five years in order to be compliant.

12:23 Open Discussion, Julie Hawkins, NRCS

Julie Hawkins thanked everyone for the hard work and input. Christine Hall announced she had accepted a new detail working with Headquarters for the next two years and a new acting resource conservationist will help facilitate the State Technical Committees starting in January 2021. Applications are currently being accepted for this position. Christine also asked for all participants to keep in mind what was done here today and what should be changed for future State Technical meetings or other virtual meetings that we will be hosting. Please share feedback. Kristen provided a quick update - New Jersey Audubon in southern New Jersey will have funding available for Atlantic white cedar in Southern NJ and wildlife habitat in Cape May County.

12:29 Next Meeting Date, Julie Hawkins, NRCS

To be determined

Adjourn

 


 

 

This page last updated December 2, 2020