Farm Bill’s changes explained to growers
GEORGETOWN, Del. — Changes in the 2018 Farm Bill may affect Environmental Quality Incentive Program assistance for new poultry farms in the future.
Representatives of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service held a public meeting at the Sussex County Conservation District office on June 14 to discuss how this new flexibility in EQIP might be used to address new and expected resource concerns on new poultry operations.
Jayme Arthurs, state resource conservationist, explained that Delaware, at present, typically gets $5 million to $8 million annually in EQIP funding for all types of farming, but that money cannot be spent on new operations.
Farmers go through a ranking process for conservation projects, with funding going to those with highest priority.
Among the screening criteria for poultry farmers is whether birds are present in the poultry house as of the eligibility deadline.
New operations, consequently, often construct temporary compost structures and mortality storage facilities which are not built to NRCS standards.
There is other financial assistance available to Delaware poultry producers through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program; however, those funds only address poultry mortality, and the application still must have an identified or existing resource concern prior to being ranked and approved for funding.
The purpose of the June 14 meeting was to let the public know that an “environmental document” is being developed which might allow new poultry producers within certain watersheds to be able to apply for financial assistance through EQIP before the first flock is placed. In developing the document, hypothetical scenarios will be considered, focusing on such concerns as nutrients or pathogens affecting surface and ground water; airborne reactive nitrogen, greenhouse gases, objectionable odors, ozone precursors, particulate matter, soil erosion and sedimentation.
The document also will determine whether there is adequate benefit-to-cost ratio.
In addition to meeting all other EQIP program eligibility requirements, applicants would be required to have a signed contract with a poultry integrator and an approved loan for the construction of a new poultry house.
Eligible practices would include manure storage facilities, animal mortality facilities, heavy use area protection pads and poultry wind breaks.
The practice must be installed within the first 12 months and birds must be scheduled to be placed in the poultry house within six months of the program application deadline.
“We’re not putting people in business for poultry production,” Arthurs stressed.
Rather, he said, the idea is to provide federal assistance early in the process.
Chuck Harmon of Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions added this “scoping meeting” was held to give stakeholders and others an opportunity for input.
“Are we headed on the right path? Are there things we need to look at more, or less? Are there other things we need to look at?” he asked.
The team is looking for eight to 10 cooperators — poultry growers willing to let them on their farms. “We have seven,” Harmon said.
The final plan — the environmental document — will provide a description of alternatives (that is, implementation of conservation practices with initial construction or delayed implementation thereof), an evaluation of the affective environment and a cost:benefit analysis.
The document will be used by NRCS as the decision-making document in the utilization of EQIP funds for new poultry farms.
According to the planned schedule, the next few months will be used to collect and analyze information.
The next public meeting is tentatively set for Nov. 16, and the plan should be prepared by July 2023.
The Delaware Congressional Delegation co-authored the statutory change in the 2018 Farm Bill which repeals the requirement for existing resource concerns.
Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse said the language presented by the delegation came from him.
“We’re four years into this Farm Bill,” Scuse noted. “It bothers me that we’ll be into the new Farm Bill before this gets done.
“It appears to me we’re making this way too difficult, and it doesn’t need to be. We’ve got growers out there who need these facilities.”
Individuals with questions or comments on the Delaware Poultry Environmental Assessment are encouraged to contact Arthurs at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the NRCS office in Dover at 302-382-4191.