Nationwide, feral swine cause $1 billion annually in damage to agricultural enterprises.
And the pests continue to increase populations and expand territory, a fact that convinced Congress to include funding for a feral swine removal program in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Those funds, $75 million, will soon be available through the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program in key states to help agricultural interests reduce feral swine numbers and to restore damaged farmland.
Matthew Lohr, chief, USDA NRCS, in a Farm Press interview, said $75 million dollars does not sound like a lot, given the scope of the problem, but it is a start that will include a broad spectrum of government agencies, including non-federal partners which could include departments of agriculture, state fish and game agencies, local soil and water conservation districts, in addition to other non-federal and not for profit entities.
This is something of a new role for NRCS. “In the past, APHIS was tasked with controlling feral swine,” Lohr said. But the rapid expansion of feral swine populations “caught the attention of Congress. It’s amazing to look at maps from five to 10 years ago to see how populations have grown. They now have spread to almost the entire country.”
The pilot program will target states with the heaviest feral swine populations — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. APHIS has determined that these states have among the highest feral swine population densities and associated damages in the country.
NRCS is accepting proposals from non-federal partners to provide landowner assistance for on-farm trapping and related services as part of the pilot projects described above. NRCS will provide funding for these services through partnership agreements. The funding limit for a single award is $1.5 million. Awardees will be required to provide at least 25 percent of the partnership agreement budget as a match to NRCS funding.
Applicants have until Aug. 19 to submit proposals for funding.
Additional information on the complete funding announcement and about specific pilot projects, including target areas and the roles for which partner assistance is being requested, can be found on the FSCP webpage. Applications must be submitted through Grants.gov by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Aug. 19, 2019.
Lohr expects to see some creative proposals emerge from the program. “I am excited to see what new technologies and creative approaches come from the organizations that participate in the program,” he said. “It is extremely difficult to maintain feral swine populations, much less to eradicate them. They are prolific, producing several litters of 10 to 12 pigs a year. We have to think outside the box.”
He said the NRCS effort, in addition to restoration and conservation, will assist in trapping hogs. APHIS will work in the pilot program areas as well and may choose to use other techniques, such as aerial gunning and ground shooting, to help control populations.
The program will rely on cooperators, including associations, agencies and landowners, who agree to bear 25 percent of the cost, which may be in cash or in-kind contributions.
If the program is a success, Lohr said, “we will go back to Congress and ask for more money.”
NRCS will direct up to $33.75 million of the allocated FSCP funds toward partnership efforts to work with landowners in identified pilot projects in targeted areas.
“I am excited,” Lohr said. “As I travel around the country, I see damage firsthand — from swine eating seedlings, to soil destruction to spreading diseases — and I hear farmers talk about the problem. I am pleased that NRCS now has a seat at the table and am anxious to see what success we can have to manage these pests.”