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EQIP sign-up period ends Feb. 26

WILLMAR -- Minnesota has been allocated $22.2 million for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program during the 2010 fiscal year.

Initially authorized under the 1996 farm bill, and then reauthorized by the 2008 farm bill, the program provides technical assistance, cost-share payments and incentive payments to crop, livestock and other agricultural producers who make environmental and conservation improvements to their farming operation.

Applications are accepted continuously at local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, applications received by Feb. 26 will be considered for funding shortly thereafter. Other sign-up periods may be held if not all funds are obligated from the applications received during this signup period.

Under the program, agricultural producers work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to address specific conservation needs by developing and following a long-term conservation plan.

Producers can receive funding to help with the cost of installing a variety of long-term practices that reduce soil erosion or improve water quality. Some common examples include water and sediment control structures, terraces and grass waterways.

Producers who adopt new farming practices that provide conservation and environmental benefits may also qualify for special incentive payments. For example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program can provide up to three years of annual incentive payments for farmers that adopt no-till or ridge-till farming practices, or who implement an approved nutrient and pest management plan.

In addition to the incentive payments in the program, some local Soil and Water Conservation Districts offer low-interest loans to assist farmers with the purchase of farm equipment used for no-till or ridge-till farming practices.

Producers contemplating the adoption of organic farming methods should be aware of a special initiative being offered under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Applicants must agree to develop and implement an organic system plan. In return, applicants could qualify for incentive payments of up to $20,000 per year, with a maximum of $80,000 for the entire contract period.

Livestock producers continue to be the prime focus group since Congress requires that at least 60 percent of funds be devoted to livestock producers.

Livestock producers may be eligible for funds to assist with the cost of installing the needed animal waste control structures to reduce or eliminate feedlot runoff.

Funds are also available to cover a portion of the cost of establishing a composting system for dead animals, or to properly close animal waste impound structures that are no longer being used.

Livestock producers can also qualify for up to three years of incentive payments to properly manage and utilize animal waste products.

For the 2010 fiscal year, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding for most practices is provided on a flat-rate payment basis. Funding can also be combined with local cost-share funds, in which case the total amount of assistance received cannot exceed 75 percent of practice cost.

For more information, producers should stop in or call their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office before the application deadline of Feb. 26.

Navy agrees to increase use of renewable energy

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Navy have signed an agreement to encourage the development and use of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.

From a strategic perspective, the objective is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels from volatile areas of the world.

In the agreement, the Navy set four ambitious goals regarding renewable energy use. They include:

- By 2012, demonstrate a "Green Strike Group" composed of nuclear vessels and ships powered by biofuel.

- By 2015, cut petroleum use in its 50,000 non-tactical commercial fleet in half by phasing in hybrid, flex-fuel and electric vehicles.

- By 2020, produce at least half of shore-based installations' energy requirements from alternative sources.

- By 2020, half of the Navy's total energy consumption for ships, aircraft, tanks, vehicles and shore-based installations will come from alternative sources.

USDA Service Centers closed Monday

This year, the Presidents Day holiday will be observed Feb. 15. All USDA Service Centers will be closed for business Monday in observance of the federal holiday.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.