Immediate Opportunities for Leveraging NRCS Funding
By Amanda Smith
Now may be the time to pull the trigger on a new drainage project, or to explore cover crop implementation on your Indiana farmland. Two USDA funding programs targeted at improving water quality in watersheds located in and affected by Northern and West-Central Indiana have rapidly approaching deadlines. The Indiana Watershed Initiative and the Mississippi River Basin Water Quality programs are both accepting funding applications through March 16, 2018.
The Indiana Watershed Initiative includes funding for the Kirkpatrick Ditch in Newton, Jasper, and Benton Counties. Led by the University of Notre Dame, it is aimed at reducing sediment runoff and improving soil health for plant resilience in high stress situations.
“The RCCP program is a good example of how we can leverage public dollars to solve local problems. The university is providing water quality data directly to farmers, allowing them to take control and make decisions about the resource issues on their land. Farmers can see the impacts of cover crops on water quality and their bottom line. That results in more buy-in and a return on investment in conservation that benefits natural resources.” – Jill Reinhart, Acting State Conservationist for Indiana’s USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Historically projects funded through this program have focused on two-stage ditch systems and cover crops. This funding cycle has been opened to also include projects implementing saturated buffers and denitrifying bioreactors, new technologies that provide similar results to more traditional drainage structures. More information on this funding program may be found at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/in/programs/farmbill/?cid=stelprdb1248173.
With approximately 18 million people and 50 cities relying on the Mississippi River for their water supply, USDA and NRCS work closely owners of Indiana farms and land on reducing runoff impacting the river and its supplying watersheds. The second funding stream is aimed at improving water quality in the Mississippi River Basin, and provides resources targeted to these local watersheds:
The Mississippi River Basin initiative funding stream originates in two Farm Bill programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These programs are aimed at encouraging farmers in adopting conservation systems to improve water quality, reduce erosion, enhance wildlife habitat, and restore wetlands. Nutrient loss and sediment reduction are the focus of this particular high priority watershed program, and projects funded include but are not limited to:
- Cover Crops
- Nutrient Management
- Reduced Tillage (Residue and Tillage Management) and No-Till
- Filter Strips, Grassed Waterways and Contour Buffer Strips
- Wetland Creation, Wetland Enhancement and Wetland Restoration
- Edge of field practices, such as Denitrifying Bioreactors and Two-Stage Ditches (Open Channel)
According to the USDA, EQIP obligations to no-till cropping systems have declined in the last decade, as increased dollars became
dedicated to cover crop implementation. This may be due producer recognition of no-till benefits and increased willingness to adopt no-till without EQIP payments to support the practice. This has allowed funding to focus on areas that offer valuable conservation benefits, but at a higher cost to the farmer.
Detailed information on projects funding within the Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) is located at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/in/programs/landscape/?cid=nrcs144p2_031031.
Additional resources that may prove helpful when considering these types of conservation projects include Ohio State Extension’s Two-Stage Ditch Cost Estimator Tool and The Midwest Cover Crops Council Cover Crop Decision Tool. For a look at how one Indiana operation is utilizing conservation tillage in addition to cover cropping, check out this YouTube video featuring Rodney Rulon of Arcadia.