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Attendees learn of available USDA funding

By JANE PRIMERANO
AFP Correspondent

NEW BRUNSWICK (March 1 2017) — When the Soil Conservation Service started, soil was not cooperating and staying on one farm.
The SCS was one of the government programs during the Dust Bowl years.
Renamed as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the agency is still helping farmers protect their soil as well as water quality, soil quality.
John Kluthe of the NRCS office in Frenchtown told a room full of farmers at the 27th Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey winter conference at Douglass College.
Kluthe was part of a panel explaining funding sources.
Step 1 in the funding process is identifying problems on the farm, he said. “We can create a conservation plan. That’s what we’ve been known for since the early days of the agency.”
Since there are often multiple solutions to problems, the NRCS finds the one the farmer is most comfortable with, that also meets the agency’s standards.
The agency shares part of the cost of conservation practices. “We make recommendations, you agree to do the best you can. If you get money from us, there are specific ways we expect you to get things done.”
“We need to know the description of the land,” Kluthe said. He said if the farm has commodity crops, one eligibility is highly erodible soil, so any steep slope probably qualifies, but the farmer needs to watch out for wetlands because they come under another set of criteria.
Applications are ranked by the best benefit to the environment.
No work can start before the contract is signed.
The design is very important and the farmer is required to keep job sheets and adhere to federal fencing requirements.
Lindsay Caragher, another member of the panel, who is moving from the Hackettstown NRCS office to a state position, pointed out the agency provides counseling, disaster assistance, income support and can reimburse for lost crops not covered by federal crop insurance.
Another loan can cover the construction of a farm storage facility.
These loans have no income requirement and the traditional loan can be as much as $500,000 with a 15 percent down payment.
A micro-loan is up to $50,000 with 5 percent down. Loans are also set up for cold units, food safety, handling, drying and hay storage.
Mark Keating, who moderated the panel, said he is working with producers who are looking to become Certified Organic.
“I don’t encourage everyone,” he said.
Brittany Dobrzynski works out of the Cape May office of New Jersey Audubon, which is under contract with NRCS in Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and Atlantic counties.
She said grant money has come from the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, the William Penn Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife and more funding comes from private donations.
Farmers can used their funding to repair riparian buffers. They may plant trees, shrubs and grasses. She said Audubon gives preference to farmers who work for NRCS.
Dobrzynski said Audubon also has other programs in the Lopatcong, Paulinskill and Musconetcong watersheds.
Joseph Henry presented on the USDA Rural Development business and cooperative programs. There are loan guarantee programs, grants under the Rural Energy for America Program and value-added producer grants up to 50 percent.
The objective of these programs is to create jobs.
Henry said with the loans in the Rural Development program can be for real estate, equity or working capital. The lender and borrower negotiate interest rates and fees.
Under Rural Energy for America farmers and small businesses in rural areas can get financial assistance for energy. The applicant must be the owner of the property. Grants are March and October each year.
“Grants are competitive, we score each and give out money until it runs out,” Henry said.
REAP can cover up to 75 percent of the costs of energy efficiency and looks for a 25 percent cash infusion.
The value-added grants can fund planning to determine the viability of value-added products or provide working capital for anything that adds value to the product.