USDA awards California conservation contracts

Lincoln Burton, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California, has announced that statewide distribution of conservation cost share contracts has been completed for fiscal year 2008.

According to Burton, 1,078 farmers and ranchers are receiving contracts totaling nearly $39 million under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“Agricultural producers work hard to find the best ways to be economically and environmentally sustainable,” says Burton. “EQIP helps us combine the vital work of conservation planning for the landscape with an economic assistance tool to implement needed improvements on a scheduled timetable.”

Some of the most popular conservation improvements funded this year include:

- Air quality improvements (e.g. cleaner engines and dust control on farm roads);

- Nutrient planning and management on dairies;

- Water efficiency measures (e.g. micro-irrigation systems and lined ditches);

- Water quality management (e.g. integrated pest management, riparian stabilization, and an increased use of hedgerows);

- Rangeland conservation (e.g. fencing to enhance livestock management); and

- Erosion control measures (e.g. increased conservation tillage and residue management).

In addition, an accelerated conservation effort helped producers in San Diego and other Southern California counties with much needed conservation assistance following last fall’s wildfires. NRCS assisted producers with $4 million in erosion control for scorched hillsides as well as water conservation, water quality, and wildlife habitat measures.

“Everyone in NRCS, local Resource Conservation Districts, and partners such as USDA’s Farm Service Agency pulled together to support an accelerated conservation program in San Diego,” says Burton. “All the people and resources of those watersheds are sharing the benefits of this environmental stewardship.”

Funding overall in California decreased 19 percent due to the expiration of key programs in the 2002 farm bill that had funded the Klamath Basin and other ground and surface water projects.

Consequently, EQIP funding was lower in almost every county in California. Another 2002 farm bill program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) also expired; it was funded at $267,000, or enough to accommodate 13 new contracts.

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