Community Agriculture Alliance: What’s new in the 2014 farm bill

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We are still learning what’s in the new farm bill and how it will affect everyone locally, but every month we learn a few more details.

One of the biggest things that this farm bill did was simplify all the programs.

Community Agriculture Alliance

This weekly column about agriculture issues is written by area farmers, ranchers and policymakers. It publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

The old programs didn’t go away, they now just are combined with another program.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program still is around to help pay for structures that will improve your operation, and that includes everything from sprinkler systems to fences and spring developments.

This program is by far the most popular, and not much changed with it. All of the easement programs have been rolled into one, which makes life easier.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that it will no longer hold these easements, so a third party must be involved when the participant applies for funds, and they must be a current State Certified Easement holder.

The new easement program is called the Agriculture Land Easement, and it contains two categories: one for wetlands and one for all ground not considered a wetland.

However, the application form that came out with ALE is very confusing; hopefully, in the following months or maybe years, this, too, will be simplified.

The Conservation Stewardship Program still is around, as well. If you own or lease more than 100 acres and you are not participating in this program, you should be.

This is a five-year contract in which you get paid every fall for doing management practices that you choose on the ground that you own or lease.

There is a lot of paperwork involved upfront, and while there is no limit on the amount of acres that can be enrolled in the program, most participants have said that to make it worthwhile for the money, they need at least 100 acres.

Even ground that currently has a development easement on it is eligible for this program because it deals with the daily management of the ground.

They say history repeats itself, and that happened in this bill with the Crop Insurance Program and the Conservation Compliance Program. All small grain farmers must have an approved Conservation Compliance plan in place when applying for crop insurance.

If your farming operation has changed, or your crop rotation, you may need a new plan if you are signing up for insurance.

New emphases were put in place to help with pollinators and renewable energy. This includes honey bees, butterflies, bats, voles, hummingbirds and everything else in between. If you want to create a habitat for these important creatures, call us so we can see what will work best for your area.

USDA is offering payment incentives in both the EQIP and CStP for landowners to help protect these often overlooked vital helpers.

Renewable energy also is a big focus in this new farm bill. Farming and ranching operations are encouraged to participate in an energy audit to see how they can make their operations more efficient.

USDA will help implement some or all of the concerns that are in this audit, but you can choose which ones.

All of these programs have good money attached to them to help individual landowners or operators, but there was not a lot of money approved for the staff to implement these programs.

Every year, the federal government expects agencies to do more with less, and this year was no exception.

So as you dive head first into the busy summer season, be thinking about improvements or projects that you would want to do next year and then give us a call.

Hopefully, we are better educated with the new farm bill and we can offer some alternatives to you.

Lori Jazwick is the NRCS district conservationist for the Steamboat Field Office.

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