Program to help farmers finance new projects

By Katie Demeria

Farmers trying to reevaluate the impact of their practices on the land and water have a local resource — and an upcoming deadline that could help them finance new, environmentally conscious practices.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has supported the Environmental Quality Incentives Program since the 1996 Farm Bill, according to Brent Barriteau, soil conservationist with the USDA’s Strasburg office.

The program helps farmers finance some of the practices suggested by Natural Resources Conservation Service agents who visit their property. The application deadline to receive funding for 2015 is Nov. 21.

Those agents recommend changes to farming operations that could positively impact natural resources on their land or improve the farmer’s annual income.

“I’ll put plans together, explaining the things I’ve identified that can be changed or improved,” Barriteau said. “From there they can apply to EQIP for financial assistance to implement the plans.”

Each year the funds available through the EQIP program in Virginia change. Last year, according to Barriteau, $18 million was available to farmers in the commonwealth.

That amount was a decrease from previous years, when he said almost every farmer eligible for the program that applied was funded. Last year, he estimated only about a third of the applications in his office were funded.

It is not yet clear how much Virginia will receive for 2015, but farmers are still encouraged to apply.

“Those that didn’t get funded last year are still interested, and on top of that we’re getting more people calling us about it,” Barriteau said.

Most of the plans Barriteau suggests have to do with improving water quality by fencing cattle or other livestock out of streams. When they have access to streams, Barriteau pointed out, cattle can damage banks or introduce bacteria through waste.

“If [farmers are] willing to get them out of the stream, they need an alternate source of water for their cattle,” Barriteau said. “So that includes drilling a well or hooking into an existing well, and strategically putting water troughs in the pasture.”

Another common suggestion is adding fences to break up a large area of land into smaller pastures. By resting certain areas of the land at various times of the year, the grass grows stronger roots, preventing runoff into streams and improving the quality of the land.

That recommendation, Barriteau said, is an example of a practice that not only benefits the natural resources on a property, but also helps a farmer financially, since forage becomes healthier and a better source of nourishment for cattle when land is rested.

Each plan is created with input from the farmer, according to Barriteau.

Barriteau’s office services Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick and Clarke counties. Those interested can contact his office by calling 540-465-2424.