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Initial conversation with NRCS  RSS feed

 
Kellan Cook
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Location: PA
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I hope I am posting this in the right forum. I did a search of 'NRCS' and found a large number in this heading.

After listening to a few talks on NRCS grants and reading several forums on this site, I have been excited to finally discuss my options with my local agent. Today was that initial conversation.

I avoided the word permaculture as some of you have suggested. I told him how we were new farmers and had a piece of land we wanted to convert to silvopasture using living fences, windbreaks, and water retention systems. I also mentioned that our field was previously cropped with soybean and that we would like to convert it to a perennial type pasture.

He sounded like they had programs directed towards everything I mentioned. However, he did mention that they have been told by the government not to support funding for silvopasture systems..... stating that if we were to run too many animals on that type of system many problems could arise. Was 'silvopasture' the wrong choice of words for this?

I know Grant Schultz has had much success with this agency, perhaps he will see this and can comment. If not, has anyone had experience dealing with NRCS and know if there is a way to get around this silvopasture roadblock. I am hoping to get some help with purchasing trees from them, but am not sure what the right angle would be with their disregard for what we call silvopasture.

Guess I will get started on the paperwork and see where this takes me. I would love some feedback/pointers on what to expect on this journey from those of you who have succeeded in using the NRCS for funding projects around your farm. Anyone else nervous about the rules we have to follow with these programs to get their funding?

Thanks!
Kellan
 
Grant Schultz
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Kellan Cook wrote:IHowever, he did mention that they have been told by the government not to support funding for silvopasture systems..... stating that if we were to run too many animals on that type of system many problems could arise.
Kellan


1) Make sure he actually understands what "silvopasture" means. Hand him a brochure on it.

2) Ask him if you can record him making the above statement, "You know, for the record". His answer may change.
 
Kellan Cook
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Location: PA
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I am meeting again with him today.... I will try the brochure and see what he says..

Another topic I didn't bring up because I wasn't sure how to approach it is... swales. These are a great water retention proponent. How would I bring up the idea of swales? I do recall reading that NRCS does not recognize swales in the general sense of the word.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Kellan Cook wrote: How would I bring up the idea of swales? I do recall reading that NRCS does not recognize swales in the general sense of the word.


Perhaps they are not swales at all, but "Sediment catchments", or "Erosion minimization berms", or "on contour infiltration systems" or whatever the favorite term is these days.
 
Kelly Smith
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Kellan Cook wrote:I am meeting again with him today.... I will try the brochure and see what he says..

Another topic I didn't bring up because I wasn't sure how to approach it is... swales. These are a great water retention proponent. How would I bring up the idea of swales? I do recall reading that NRCS does not recognize swales in the general sense of the word.


make sure you call them "bio swales" - which are certainly something NRCS would recognize.
if not, show them this.... you know their documentation on the thing we are referencing http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/mt/water/?cid=nrcs144p2_057443
 
Eric Thompson
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NRCS contracts have grazing specifics built in, so as long as you are ok with those, there should be built in assurance that you won't be overgrazing. They should be comfortable with multiple wind breaks and pollination hedges..


 
Kellan Cook
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Location: PA
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Feeling discouraged after meeting with NRCS agent today...

Went to the office to fill out application and to request for a field visit to begin to establish our plan.

Went into detail describing our plans, again. Silvopasture on or slightly off contour with windbreaks and living fences. Mentioned we would like to have chickens and pigs pastured to start with...again he remarked about upper management frowning on silvopasture and swine. Apparently, the office in PA feels like swine are best kept in confinement. Another shock to hear from an agency I thought was looking out for the environment. He also stated that he has never funded a pastured poultry operation so perhaps that was a possibility in my plans...

Just a little background. We just bought this land during this summer and currently the field is in weeds since it wasn't cropped this year and we currently have no livestock. Not having livestock seemed to be a problem to him. He kept saying that my property needs to have a "resource concern.". That part confused me because in my opinion the neighboring farms spraying round up nearby and their livestock polluting my water supply is a resource concern of mine.

I went through the whole application and paperwork. Someone is set to come out in November. I must say I am not hopeful.

Those of you who have successfully been awarded funding for trees or hedgerows. How do you swing it? What is the " resource concerns " on your property.

Any thoughts of this feedback?

 
Kellan Cook
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Location: PA
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I forgot one thing.

After we were done, he told me that I HAD to have a manure management plan by law. I asked if simply letting the manure fertilize the field counted he told me no.

Handed me some literature talking about CAFO and that was it. Now, I know we all don't have said plan. Is there any truth to what he is telling me? I thought compost, sunlight, and a prescribed grazing schedule would suffice?
 
Eric Thompson
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Sounds like you need to work a little on the education side. Try doing this through NRCS publications that are relevant -- they have some good ones! Make a plan that goes by those guidelines and reference the publication -- maybe you can educate your local agent through them..

 
Kellan Cook
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Location: PA
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I took him a brochure that was published by the USDA and also had the support of NRCS clearly printed on the brochure. The brochure was on silvopasture.

He just said "was that from another state?" To me it seems there is no educating to be done. They know what it is and according to him upper management will not support it.
 
Dan Grubbs
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This agent needs to get a visit from Ray Archuleta and Doug Peterson and Ray Covino. These are three of his fellow NRCS agents that can help him learn about the techniques you want to employ and appropriately deal with "upper management" of the NRCS. I would say, sadly, that it's going to take more than one year to get your agent up to speed and could mean difficulties for funding support. We recently purchased a second property and because of the restrictions the government agency would put on what I want to do if I received their funding, I'm not going to seek funding for this second property. It's a trade off, for sure.
 
Kelly Smith
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@ Kellan,

maybe its just me, but it doesnt sound like the guy wants to help you much.
imo, the person you are working with will make or break working with the NRCS. they can make things a breeze or they can make things a PITA, sounds like you got a version of the latter.


im not on a large farm, so maybe that is why i am a bit jaded - but to me - the few hours i spent talking with my local NRCS folks seemed like a total waste of time.
there were 3-5 things that they were interested in doing (grapes, cider apples/pressing, high tunnels and fencing) and they didnt really want to stray to far from that.
i left and have never gone back. sure it has cost me some more money to develop my place, but the time and heartache of not having to deal with them seems to be a better trade off.

not saying this is for everyone, but just wanted to post that your time is worth something - and if its being wasted, imo - you should move on.

good luck and keep us updated.
 
Kellan Cook
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Location: PA
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Kelly

Your right. It doesn't seem that he will be much help moving forward. I'll do the site visit, but I am not expecting much.

This guy only seemed to want to rotationally graze cows. In fact, it sounded like cows were the only livestock they supported. On less than 13 acres, cows for anything other than my personal family use doesn't seem profitable to me. Just not large enough.

Perhaps your right, maybe they only like to play with the big dogs. The way they come off is if your doing something degrading to your land then they will help you improve that. In my case, we aren't currently farming our land and don't have livestock yet so apparently they want nothing to do with us....

Thanks for the input.
 
Travis Johnson
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I deal with the NRCS a lot, but I am also a rather big farm. Even then it just depends on who is in charge and what they like or dislike, and what they are pushing for from the state and federal levels. Fortunately I got involved when a new woman took over and she loved small farmers and really helped us out. This was off her former boss who HATED sheep farmers and only gave money to dairy farmers because that was how his family farmed.

I will not defend the person, but he is right on the comprehensive nutrient management plan, you need one if you have livestock in order to get government grants. Its just the rules. I won't even get into how silly they can be, but in Maine we have a law that says a LICENSED ENGINEER must sign off on them and there are only two in the state. The gouging is unreal. My CNMP was fairly inexpensive, but our big dairy farm costs $30,000 every 5 years!! Maine is the ONLY state in the nation to require the engineer stamp of approval...stupid!

I feel your pain though. This year they told me in one of the watersheds I fall under, there was more money in the kitty then what they had applications for so you can imagine my shock when I was not approved and all I wanted was crop rotation; something that is clearly covered under their practices. Someone just did not push for it.

As for wording, you got to be able to talk their talk that is for sure. For instance they will tell you they do not build barns, which they don't, but they built us a "heavy use area with a roof and end walls" on the dairy farm. In other words...what you and I call a barn!! It is all in how it is worded.

Also do not be shy about signing up for programs. They often say "we are out of funding for this fiscal year", but their year runs until October. You have to sign up now to get money for 2017, but they do not tell you that. Its misleading for sure.

If the NRCS cannot do anything for you, you can always try the FSA, I have got a few loans through them that worked out really well and intend to get a few more.
 
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