Plenty of help is available to farmers through several programs from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), including cost sharing on projects and technical expertise.
Beau Sorenson, district conservationist, said the NRCS is not a regulatory agency and is just there to “help the people help the land” if they ask for it. He said besides cost-sharing programs to give farmers incentive to conserve resources, his group is always happy to visit with people and even come out to their property to help them identify resource concerns they may not even realize were a problem.
One national program they are preparing to administer is the seasonal high tunnel initiative, which helps farmers build high tunnels, or hoop houses, on their property.
“It is basically a greenhouse without a heater,” said soil conservationist Rebecca Pederson. “The idea is that a hoop house will extend their growing season.”
To qualify for the program, farmers must supply local venues like a farmers market or school.
The program is part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which also has an organic initiative setting aside money specifically for organic farmers or those transitioning to organic farming.
Sorenson said organic farming is more expensive and it is much harder to deal with resource concerns like pest management, so he is happy to see that initiative in place for a group that has often been overlooked.
Another federally funded program is the On-Farm Energy Initiative, which pays for an energy audit so farmers can see where they are wasting energy, then helps them come up with a plan to address it.
The Conservation Stewardship Program pays farmers for conservation performance.
Sorenson said that program is unusual because many programs overlook past projects and improvements and this one gives people credit for what they have already accomplished.
“They still have to do an enhancement, but it rewards people for what they have already done plus takes them a step further,” he said.
Those programs, all with rolling application dates, are in competition with growers from the rest of the state.
He said none of the programs fund projects at 100 percent of the cost but they do provide a good incentive to do improvement projects and increase conservation.
Just as importantly, he said, the NRCS is a great resource and provides a vast amount of technical expertise for free so that farmers are using the best evidence-based practices to address resource concerns.
“If we are going to cost-share on something we want to make sure it is going to work and fix the problem,” he said.
More information may be found at http://www.or.nrcs. usda.gov/ or by contacting Hood River County representative Carly Heron at 541-386-2815.