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Conservation, grasslands signups offered

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently set a July 23 deadline for agricultural producers and landowners to apply for the Conservation Reserve Program General signup 56. USDA’s Farm Service Agency also will accept applications for Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands from July 12 to Aug. 20.

The USDA updated both signup options to provide greater incentives for producers and increase its conservation benefits. Both signups are competitive and will provide for annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

Through the Conservation Reserve Program producers and landowners establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Lands enrolled in the program also play a key role in mitigating impacts from climate change. The Farm Service Agency has added a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for practices that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Farm Service Agency is adding a one-time “inflationary” adjustment for payment rates, as well as having more flexibility on adjusting soil-rental rates.

The Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands helps landowners and operators protect grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations, and improves environmental quality, according to the USDA.

The Farm Service Agency has updated the Grasslands Signup to establish a minimum rental rate of $15 per acre, as well as new National Grassland Priority Zones. Visit farmers.gov/service-locator for more information.

Rural-development grants offered

A new grant program to help rural communities create good-paying jobs and support new business opportunities recently was launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. The Rural Innovation Stronger Economy program is intended to help rural communities identify and maximize local assets and connect to networks and industry clusters within their region. The new grant encourages a regional approach to economic development.

The USDA will provide grants of as much as $2 million to consortiums of local governments, investors, industry, institutions of higher education, and other public and private entities in rural areas. The funds may be used to form job-accelerator partnerships and create well-paying jobs, start or expand businesses, and support economic growth in rural areas in their region.

Funding also may be used to establish and operate innovation centers and partnerships, such as integrating rural businesses into new supply chains, providing workforce training, and identifying community assets.

Award recipients must support projects for at least four years. Applicants are encouraged to contact their nearest USDA Rural Development State Office for more information about the program or the application process.

Applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time Aug. 2. Applications will be accepted electronically at Grants.gov. Visit rd.usda.gov and public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2021-12335.pdf and govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2021-06-15/pdf/2021-12334.pdf for more information.

Water-quality pilot to expand

Landowners and agricultural producers currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program now may enroll in a 30-year contract through the Clean Lakes, Estuaries And Rivers initiative, called CLEAR30. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding the water-quality focused option available through the Conservation Reserve Program. The option had been available only in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds. Access is now expanded to agricultural producers nationwide.

Interested producers with Conservation Reserve Program contracts expiring Sept. 30 may sign up by Aug. 6. The water-quality program provides an opportunity for producers to receive incentives for a 30-year commitment to water-quality practices on their Conservation Reserve Program land, building on their original 10- to 15-year contracts. Visit farmers.gov/service-locator for more information.

Wetland-mitigation proposals accepted

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting proposals for the Wetland Mitigation Banking Program. The grant program supports development of mitigation banks for use by agricultural producers seeking to maintain eligibility for USDA programs. Funds are available to tribes, government entities, nonprofits and other organizations.

Wetland-mitigation banks enable the restoration or creation of wetlands to compensate for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location, said Terry Cosby, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The agency awarded the first Wetland Mitigation Banking Program grants in 2016. To date it has supported the creation or expansion of wetland-mitigation banks in 11 states.

The agency is prioritizing funds in states with large amounts of wetlands as well as large numbers of producers with wetland-determination requests. Awardees may use funding to support mitigation-bank site identification, development of a mitigation-banking instrument, site restoration, land surveys, permitting and title searches, and market research.

Proposals must be submitted by Aug. 13. The agency is accepting proposals through Grants.gov. Visit nrcs.usda.gov and search for "Wetland Mitigation Banking" for more information. 

Wisconsin county agents honored

The Wisconsin Association of County Agricultural Agents recently recognized several members during its annual awards program. The organization for county, area and state Extension professionals works to improve the effectiveness of the University of Wisconsin-Division of Extension programs. It provides assistance for agents to seek and participate in professional-improvement opportunities, and recognizes and promotes superior achievement. Agents receiving communication awards are listed.

  • Katie Wantoch, Dunn County
  • Aerica Bjurstrom, Kewaunee County
  • Tina Kohlman, Fond du Lac County
  • Sandy Stuttgen, Lincoln County
  • Stephanie Plaster, Ozaukee County
  • Joy Kirkpatrick, UW-Center for Dairy Profitability

Receiving the Search for Excellence Award were Katie Wantoch, for her programming with young, beginning or small farmers-ranchers and sustainable-agriculture education efforts, and Dan Marzu, agricultural education agent in Lincoln County, for crop production.

Don Drost, former Barron County agriculture agent, earned the 2021 Hall of Fame Award. Ryan Sterry of St. Croix County received the Distinguished Service Award for agents with service of more than 10 years.

Lyssa Seefeldt of Eau Claire County, received the Achievement Award for excellence in outreach with Wisconsin Association of County Agricultural Agents members with fewer than 10 years of service.

Two Extension specialists received the Second Mile Award for their outstanding support of county-agricultural agents. They are Steven Deller, professor, UW-Madison Department of Applied and Agricultural Economics and Extension specialist, and Francisco Arriaga, associate professor, UW-Extension soil scientist.

The Wisconsin Association of County Agricultural Agents honored two family businesses with the Friend of the County Agent award for their exceptional support of county agents and Extension programs. They are Bob and Jim Conant of Bohica Hops near Tomah, Wisconsin, and Dave Buss of Davali Ridge Hops, near Waterloo, Wisconsin.

They were both recognized for working with and allowing Extension agents to conduct field research on their hop farms. Visit fyi.extension.wisc.edu and search for “Wisconsin Association of County Agricultural Agents” for more information.

Cooperative boards vote to unite

The boards of directors from Select Sires Inc. and five member cooperatives have voted to unite the federation to become Select Sires Cooperative Inc. The decision must next be ratified by delegates or member-owners from each of the five member cooperatives.

Select Sires will remain a farmer-owned and controlled cooperative with grassroots leadership throughout the United States. All customer-owner membership and patronage due will be transferred to and paid by Select Sires Cooperative Inc.

Farmer boards from five of the six cooperatives – All West-Select Sires, CentralStar Cooperative Inc., COBA-Select Sires Inc., Select Sires MidAmerica Inc., and Minnesota Select Sires Co-op Inc. – voted to recommend the unification proposal to their respective delegate or farmer-owner voting body. While the vote to recommend unification wasn’t unanimous, Premier Select Sires will remain a cooperative member of Select Sires Cooperative Inc. and will have access to Select Sires’ genetics and programs.

Farmer-owners won’t experience service changes pending unification of the cooperatives, according to Select Sires. Visit selectsires.com/unify for more information.

This article originally ran on agupdate.com.

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