Funding available for farmers, forest owners

LAKE COUNTY -- Conservation financial assistance is available for implementing a wide variety of practices or activities to reduce soil erosion, improve wildlife habitat, protect water quality and manage private forest land.

To be included in the current selection for U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation financial assistance, Michigan farmers and forest owners must submit their applications by Jan. 22.

"Helping Michigan's agricultural producers and forest owners improve conservation on working lands benefits everyone," USDA State Conservationist Garry Lee said. "This funding will help protect our natural resources including our lakes, rivers and wildlife, while supporting production of the food and forest products we rely on."

Conservation financial assistance, in the form of cost-share, is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Complete applications received by Jan. 22 will be ranked and selected for funding on a competitive basis statewide for fiscal year 2021.

Financial assistance is available for implementing designated conservation practices such as windbreaks, nutrient management plans, cover crops, forest management plans, crop residue and tillage management, animal waste storage facilities and many others.

In Lake and Mason counties, common activities include erosion control and streambank protection, forest management plans, brush management (autumn olive removal), forest stand improvement, pollinator habitat and tree and shrub plantings.

Activities on farms often include nutrient management, cover crops, chemical and fuel storage facilities, livestock fencing, livestock watering facilities and pasture improvements.

A portion of USDA conservation funding is targeted to state-level conservation priorities. These include funds for farmers seeking Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verification, honey bee habitat, organic producers and producers transitioning to organic production, creating or improving monarch butterfly habitats, practices to address concentrated flow erosion, energy conservation and Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects.

Forest owners can obtain further tax benefits following participation in these programs.

Forest management plans funded through EQIP meet the requirements to enroll in MDARD's Qualified Forest Program.

Qualified Forest Program participants receive a property tax exemption on their forested parcel in exchange for implementing a forest management plan to improve wildlife habitat and create healthy forests.

To get started on your forest management plan, contact Mason-Lake and Manistee Conservation District forester, Josh Shields, at (231) 889-9666.

In many areas of the state, conservation district foresters are available to help navigate this process and connect landowners with credentialed service providers.

Services, site visits and technical advice provided by conservation district foresters are free of charge, thanks to Forestry Assistance Program grants provided by MDARD.

For more information on the Qualified Forest Program, visit michigan.gov/qfp.

Applications are accepted on a continuous basis and producers and forest owners are encouraged to submit applications at any time. Applications are selected for funding on a competitive basis based on their conservation benefits.

Conservation activities receiving financial assistance must be part of an agricultural or forest operation's conservation plan. Applicants should work with their local NRCS or Mason-Lake Conservation District staff to develop a conservation plan and submit an application.

For further information or to submit an application, contact Seth Earl, district conservationist with NRCS, at (231) 757-3707 ext. 108; or Jerry Kass, conservation technician with Mason-Lake Conservation District at (231) 757-3707 ext. 110; or visit mason-lakeconservation.org.

All technical advice, site visits and assistance with applications is free to the public, through grants held by the Conservation District.

For more general information about conservation financial assistance through EQIP and CSP, visit mi.nrcs.usda.gov.