Production agriculture and conservation often seem to be at odds with each other, but their interdependence will be highlighted through two new projects funded by the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in Missouri. MFA Incorporated is a partnering organization in both initiatives.
Through the RCPP, an award of $930,377 was earmarked for a precision farm data and strategic buffer placement project, which will create and implement management strategies that target unprofitable cropland acres. Goals are to enhance water and soil health, provide essential habitat for pollinators and grassland bird species on agricultural land, and help producers avoid the need for natural resource regulatory requirements.
The funding amount will be for five years and will be used to provide cost-share to landowners in support of applying eligible practices. Missouri counties included in the project area are Saline, Lafayette, Pettis, Macon, Randolph, Chariton and Linn.
“This project is a great example of how true collaboration among our Missouri conservation and agriculture partners can help us all better serve producers in ways that can address both economic and conservation concerns on their farms,” said Lisa Potter, Farm Bill Coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation, the lead partner on this project.
Other contributing organizations are the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, Bayer, Missouri Rural Water Association, The Nature Conservancy, Missouri River Bird Observatory, Associated Electric Cooperative, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Fertilizer Institute.
Adam Jones, MFA Incorporated conservation specialist, said MFA’s role in the project will be to capture and analyze farm imagery and row-crop yield data, and then make recommendations for converting unproductive areas to a diverse mix of native warm-season grasses and forbs. He said a website will be set up later this year to provide more information and a mechanism for producers to express interest in participating.
“Growers will be eligible for a special pool of RCPP conservation dollars to implement the practices that we recommend,” Jones explained. “And all the data we use to make those plans will be housed with MFA, not with the government.”
That’s one of the main differences between other federal conservation programs and the RCPP, which was created under the 2014 Farm Bill. RCPP projects must be under-taken as public-private partnerships among a variety of stakeholders. Participating organizations are expected to provide significant matching funds for the project, including in-kind contributions such as monitoring, conservation planning and producer assistance—like the services MFA is providing. RCPP funding is awarded competitively based on proposals submitted by partnering organizations.
MFA is participating in another RCPP project proposed by the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks to support the protection of clean drinking water in Southwest Missouri. The RCPP funding for this project totaled $2.1 million, which will provide significant cost-share opportunities for producers and landowners in the James River Watershed upstream of Lake Springfield for activities such as:
- Planting trees along waterways
- Fencing infrastructure for prescribed grazing systems
- Improving wildlife cover and habitat
- Forest and soil health improvements
- Voluntary conservation easements and land rentals
The actions are estimated to impact more than 150,000 Missourians, improve the local farming economy, help Springfield and Greene County meet federal water quality requirements and improve aquatic ecosystems along the James River headwaters.
“For our part, MFA will be providing extra outreach on grazing conservation, perhaps by hosting some field days and generally encouraging practices that meet the project goals,” Jones said. “Landry Jones, our conservation grazing specialist in that region, will have a key role in those efforts.”
Along with MFA, other contributing partners in this RCPP project are Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Rural Water Association, Ozark Greenways, James River Basin Partnership, Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District, Greene County and the city of Springfield.
This year, across the U.S., more than $330 million in RCPP funding was awarded to 85 locally driven projects, including four in Missouri and several others in surrounding states. For more information, visit the program’s website at mfa.ag/rcpp.
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