12/11/05 — Program will reward farmers for using conservation techniques on their land

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Program will reward farmers for using conservation techniques on their land

By Turner Walston
Published in News on December 11, 2005 2:05 AM

Many farmers and landowners in eastern Wayne County will have a chance to benefit from a new conservation program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Conservation Security Program provides financial incentives, including cash payments, to farmers who practice good stewardship of natural resources in the Middle Neuse Watershed. The watershed includes a large section of eastern Wayne County, along with portions of Lenoir, Duplin, Greene, Pitt, Jones, Beaufort and Craven counties. The total area contains more than 679,000 acres.

Workshops on the program will be 7 p.m. Monday at the Seven Springs Fire Department, Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Wayne Center on George Street and again on Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. at the Wayne Center.

Patty Gabriel is the district conservationist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. She urged eligible landowners to attend the workshops.

"We're really wanting people to come to the public meetings. For the part of Wayne County that's eligible for this year, this is their only shot," Mrs. Gabriel said. Farmers who miss this opportunity likely won't be eligible again for several years, she added.

The program was introduced in three watershed areas of North Carolina this year and will be expanded to four more in the coming year. The average payment to participating landowners in 2005 was $10,000. Within seven years, the program will be introduced nationwide, federal agriculture officials said.

Rewarded farming practices will include the application of proper nutrients, combating pests in an environmentally sensitive manner, residue management and controlling livestock access to surface water sources.

"This is a program that rewards farmers who are already doing good conservation work," Mrs. Gabriel said. "It's encouraging other farmers to get their farm up to the standards that the people who qualify for this program are already at."

Farmers and landowners can participate in the program at one of three levels, which are determined by the conservation practices they use. Qualifying fields can be enrolled initially, and additional fields may be added as farmers make more improvements.

Mrs. Gabriel said the benefits of the program go far beyond the chance for a government payout. Land becomes more productive in the long run, erosion is controlled, and farmers can more easily manage the distribution of nutrients into the soil.

"Most farmers want to be good stewards of their land. They're not going to want to leave the land worse off after they have utilized it. Most of them have an environmental conscience. That's ultimately why a lot of them will want to adopt the conservation practices," she said.

The federal government wants to help farmers be more productive and at the same time help the environment, Mrs. Gabriel said.

"It keeps our nation strong to keep our cropland in good condition, rather than having it worn out and eroded so the yields will go down. I think they're looking at it from that perspective," she said. "To keep agriculture strong, they want to encourage farmers to adopt practices that will keep the land in good condition so others will be encouraged to also follow in their steps."