Applications open for Conservation Stewardship Program
WILLMAR -- Applications are now being accepted for the Conservation Stewardship Program, a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
In addition to accepting applications for the program, local Conservation Service offices will provide eligible producers with financial and technical assistance to conserve and enhance soil, water, air and related natural resources on their land. Eligible land includes cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland and nonindustrial private forestlands.
Under the Conservation Stewardship Program, participants could possibly qualify for two types of payments. An annual payment is available for improving, maintaining and managing existing activities, or by installing and adopting additional activities. A supplemental payment may be earned by participants who also adopt a resource-conserving crop rotation.
Using five-year contracts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will make payments as soon as practical after Oct. 1 of each year for activities carried out in the previous fiscal year. Annual payments are computed by determining the participant's estimated conservation performance, and the land-use type for enrolled eligible land.
For all contracts, the payments to a person or legal entity may not exceed $40,000 in any year, and no more than a total of $200,000 over the five-year contract period.
Initial analysis has shown that, under a strict set of assumptions, participants fulfilling the requirements might receive estimated payments in the range of $12 to $22 per acre for cropland; $7 to $14 per acre for improved pastureland; and $6 to $12 per acre for nonindustrial private forestland.
The estimated supplemental payment range for adopting a resource-conserving crop rotation is $12 to $16 per acre.
These price ranges are based on projections of acreage enrollment and conservation performance. Individual payment rates could fall outside these ranges based on the specific level of conservation performance.
Authorized by the 2008 farm bill, the Conservation Stewardship Program, formerly known as the Conservation Security Program, has been simplified and expanded to help farmers maintain, establish and increase conservation on land they are actively farming.
The 2008 farm bill made several significant modifications. One such modification is that the program will no longer use watershed boundaries to determine which farmers are eligible to sign up on an annual basis. Instead, all farmers across the country are now eligible to enroll.
Secondly, the three-tier structure has been changed to a whole-farm approach. The option to enroll just one field is no longer available.
Also, sign-ups will now be accepted on a continuous basis, utilizing a new ranking system that will bring greater clarity and predictability to the program, and the sign-up process.
Since the number of applications received is likely to exceed funding availability, applications will be periodically ranked throughout the year and funding determined according to the results of the ranking process.
The cutoff date for the first ranking of applications will be Sept. 30. Anyone wanting to be considered for the initial ranking process will need to have the application submitted by that date.
Broadband internet access benefits rural communities
A new USDA economic analysis has found that rural communities with a longer history of greater broadband Internet access had stronger economic growth and higher non-farm private earnings.
The study, "Broadband Internet's Value for Rural America," was conducted by economists from USDA's Economic Research Service. The researchers compared counties that had broadband access relatively early -- by 2000 -- with similarly situated counties that had little or no broadband access.
By 2007, the study found that most households -- 82 percent -- with in-home Internet access had a broadband connection. However, there was a marked difference between urban and rural broadband use.
Only 70 percent of the rural households with in-home Internet access had a broadband connection in 2007, compared with 84 percent of urban households.
The study also found that rural America has shared in the growth of the Internet economy. The capability to provide online courses for students and continuing education programs has improved educational opportunities, especially in small isolated rural areas.
Telemedicine and telehealth have been hailed as vital to providing quality health care to rural communities.
The study also found that the farm sector, which is increasingly comprised of farm businesses that buy inputs and make sales online, also benefits when broadband Internet access is available.
Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.