The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) began accepting nominations for county committee members on June 15.

Elections will occur in certain Local Administrative Areas (LAA) for these members who make important decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally. All nomination forms for the 2021 election must be postmarked or received in the local FSA office by Aug. 2, 2021.

Agricultural producers who participate or cooperate in a USDA program, and reside in the LAA that is up for election this year, may be nominated for candidacy for the county committee.

A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation to FSA, even if they have not applied or received program benefits. Individuals may nominate themselves or others and qualifying organizations may also nominate candidates. USDA encourages minority producers, women and beginning farmers or ranchers to nominate, vote, and hold office.

Nationwide, more than 7,700 dedicated members of the agricultural community serving on FSA county committees. The committees are made up of three to 11 members who serve three-year terms.

Producers serving on FSA county committees play a critical role in the day-to-day operations of the agency. Committee members are vital to how FSA carries out disaster programs, as well as conservation, commodity and price support programs, county office employment and other agricultural issues.

LAAs are elective areas for FSA committees in a single county or multi-county jurisdiction. This may include LAAs that are focused on an urban or suburban area.

Urban and Suburban County Committees

The 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to form urban county committees as well as make other advancements related to urban agriculture, including the establishment of the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production.

FSA established county committees specifically focused on urban agriculture. The urban county committees will work to encourage and promote urban, indoor and other emerging agricultural production practices.

Additionally, the new county committees may address areas such as food access, community engagement, support of local activities to promote and encourage community compost and food waste reduction.

Urban committee members are nominated and elected to serve by local urban producers in the same jurisdiction. These members are a vital link in the effective administration of USDA programs and are responsible for carrying out programs in full accordance with the regulations, national and state policies, procedures, and instructions.

Urban county committee members will provide outreach to ensure urban producers understand USDA programs and serve as the voice of other urban producers and assist in program implementation that support the needs of the growing urban community. Urban county committees must see that county office operations are supportive and that they receive timely and quality service by carrying out responsibilities effectively, efficiently, and impartially. Learn more at farmers.gov/urban.

More InformationProducers should contact their local FSA office today to register and find out how to get involved in their county’s election. They should check with their local USDA Service Center to see if their LAA is up for election this year. To be considered, a producer must be registered and sign an FSA-669A nomination form or an FSA-669-A-3 for urban county committees. The form and other information about FSA county committee elections are available at fsa.usda.gov/elections.

Election ballots will be mailed to eligible voters beginning Nov. 1, 2021. To find your local USDA Service Center, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.

USDA Expands and Renews Conservation Reserve Program in Effort to Boost Enrollment and Address Climate Change

USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials.

Conservation Reserve ProgramUSDA’s goal is to enroll up to 4 million new acres in CRP by raising rental payment rates and expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program. CRP is one of the world’s largest voluntary conservation programs with a long track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon, and reducing nitrogen runoff, as well providing healthy habitat for wildlife.

CRP is a powerful tool when it comes to climate mitigation, and acres currently enrolled in the program mitigate more than 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If USDA reaches its goal of enrolling an additional 4 million acres into the program, it will mitigate an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent and prevent 90 million pounds of nitrogen and 33 million tons of sediment from running into our waterways each year.

New Climate-Smart Practice IncentiveTo target the program on climate change mitigation, FSA is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous signups that aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-Smart CRP practices include establishment of trees and permanent grasses, development of wildlife habitat, and wetland restoration. The Climate-Smart Practice Incentive is annual, and the amount is based on the benefits of each practice type.

Higher Rental Rates and New Incentives

In 2021, CRP is capped at 25 million acres, and currently 20.8 million acres are enrolled. Furthermore, the cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023. To help increase producer interest and enrollment, FSA is:

Adjusting soil rental rates. This enables additional flexibility for rate adjustments, including a possible increase in rates where appropriate.

Increasing payments for Practice Incentives from 20% to 50%. This incentive for continuous CRP practices is based on the cost of establishment and is in addition to cost share payments.

Increasing payments for water quality practices. Rates are increasing from 10% to 20% for certain water quality benefiting practices available through the CRP continuous signup, such as grassed waterways, riparian buffers, and filter strips.

Establishing a CRP Grassland minimum rental rate. This benefits more than 1,300 counties with rates currently below the minimum.

To learn more about updates to CRP, download our “What’s New with CRP” fact sheet.

USDA Announces Updated Conservation Practice Standards

USDA has completed and published updates to its set of National Conservation Practice Standards, which include 58 standards that have been updated or revised since August. The 2018 Farm Bill required USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to review all 169 of its national conservation practices to seek opportunities to increase flexibility and incorporate new technologies.

NRCS’s National Conservation Practice Standards provides guidelines for planning, designing, installing, operating and maintaining conservation practices. The 58 revised standards cover a wide range of practices, including irrigation water management, heavy use area protection, and composting facilities.

During the review process, NRCS is adding two new conservation practices dealing with wastewater treatment and wildlife habitat planning, along with maintaining an additional 18 interim conservation practice standards that are being tested to establish and document natural resource benefits.

These updated practices include changes in technology and add criteria to address emerging concerns such as soil health, water conservation, drought tolerance, and resiliency. They contribute to the USDA Agriculture Innovation Agenda’s goal of reducing the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050.

For more information on the National Conservation Practice Standards, visit nrcs.usda.gov or contact your local NRCS field office. To learn about the benefits of conservation practices directly from the farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners applying them, check out the Conservation at Work video series.

{span}Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299{/span}

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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