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USDA Field Buffer Options Plentiful, Profitable

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | 04:31am
NASHVILLE --- Clean water and healthy soils not only benefit local farmers and farming communities but the public in general. As fewer farmland acres continue to provide food and fiber for increasing populations, lands are being used more intensively to provide these commodities, at times to the detriment of our soils and water supplies.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs seek to encourage wise land use and to provide adequate incentives for farmers and other landowners to restore tree, shrub and grass buffers along streams, sinkholes, and field borders. Recently, payments and incentives for establishing or restoring buffers have been increased in several programs.
In the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), in addition to providing cost-share reimbursement for planting materials and labor, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now including a “foregone income” payment for taking the buffer area out of crop or forage production. Payments in those programs now range from approximately $1,800 to $2,200 an acre for cropland restored to riparian tree and/or shrub buffers.
The USDA-Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has several buffer practices that can be established on lands cropped at least four of six years between 2002-07 and also marginal pasturelands along creeks, sinkholes and waterways.  Eligible buffer areas can be enrolled in 10-15 year contracts that provide not only cost-share for establishment, but also significant signing incentive payments, extra practice incentive payments, and an annual rental payment based on various soil rental rates. Additional payments are also authorized for livestock exclusion fencing and alternative water sources where eligible.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency recently announced a $100 an acre incentive for wide native grass buffers to be established on crop fields in spring 2011 under the USDA-Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program in 36 counties targeted to restore bobwhite quail populations. TWRA’s incentive is in addition to the USDA payments.
“Restoring adequate tree, shrub or grass buffers along our streams, around sinkholes, and on crop field edges not only reduces siltation and chemical runoff into our waters but also helps wildlife by reconnected an increasingly fragmented landscape with protective cover and travel corridors,” said NRCS State Biologist Mike Zeman.
For more information on what programs and practices your land may qualify for, contact your local USDA Service Center. You can also find more information on programs on and who to contact for technical assistance at and on USDA websites.

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