Signup is underway and funding is available for multiple conservation programs under the 2008 farm law. Cotton producers need to familiarize themselves with these programs and give strong consideration to participating.
Will conservation get a focus at the 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences?
Yes. NCC Conservation Task Force Chairman Jimmy Webb, a Georgia producer, and Robbie Minnich, a NCC government relations representative, will address the Beltwide Cotton Production Conference’s general session on Jan. 5 with an update on conservation programs and encourage attendance at an afternoon workshop.
At the two-hour workshop, Minnich will be joined by Bruce Knight, a former USDA undersecretary and former chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They will discuss conservation program details and the ways that producers can increase their odds of acceptance. The workshop also will enable attendees to ask questions about various conservation programs and hear from producer leaders about their experiences.
What other educational efforts are being developed?
Following the Beltwide, the NCC will create a key conservation portal on its Web site at www.cotton.org. The portal will feature multiple 20-30 minute videos highlighting individual conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The videos also will offer guidelines on how producers can become eligible for these programs and feature producers sharing how these programs have worked on their operations.
In addition, one page summaries that focus on how the programs specifically can be used on a typical cotton farm will be available for download. For the first few months, the portal will feature an option for producers to email their questions and get answers. Ultimately, the NCC aims to use these questions to develop a Frequently Asked Questions section for the portal.
Is participation in these conservation programs worthwhile?
As noted in the September Cotton’s Agenda column, the NCC always has worked with Congress and the Administration to see that conservation programs work for cotton producers. The most recent example of that was when NCC staff reviewed the interim final rules for the CRP and the CSP with the NCC’s Conservation Task Force and submitted extensive comments on behalf of the industry. We continue to work with the NRCS as final rules are expected to be developed in early 2010. The NCC also provided a CSP summary and a self-screening checklist on www.cotton.org.
With more conservation funds available, it makes economic sense for producers to take a closer look at participation. Many cotton producers already are employing practices that would make them eligible to participate and receive financial assistance. We should educate ourselves on these conservation programs so that we can maximize our on-farm/environmental improvements and operational investment. This is an excellent opportunity to preserve the very land on which we farm.
Jay Hardwick is a Newellton, La., cotton producer currently serving as chairman of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.