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Extension helps Arkansas producers with funds and operations

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Many Arkansas producers who were stuck at home during the height of the pandemic sought out educational opportunities through Extension.
More Arkansas producers are signing up for and taking part in educational programming that benefits their operations.

In his work with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Small Farm Program, Dameion White, Extension associate, has noticed one positive change brought on as result of the pandemic. More Arkansas producers are signing up for and taking part in educational programming that benefits their operations.

Because most of the UAPB Small Farm Program’s face-to-face programming was called off for a year due to social distancing protocols, program personnel conducted an ambitious series of educational webinars for small-scale and underserved producers, allowing them to obtain the knowledge and tools to stay profitable.

White and other program personnel connected with producers through Zoom meetings and phone calls to help them apply for several disaster relief programs to offset losses caused by the pandemic.

“Many Arkansas producers who stayed home in the height of the lockdowns were stuck at home with little to do, so they started surfing the internet and seeking out educational opportunities,” he said. “We noticed that attendance for our workshops started going up from 20 in-person to around 70 online attendees. I think the pandemic made many producers sit down and want to work on enhancing some parts of their businesses they might not have had time for in the past.”

Understanding operations

One of White’s main responsibilities is helping producers apply for and receive cost-share assistance funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). He is often on the road, visiting small producers on their property to understand their operations, short and long terms goals and areas for improvement on their land.

“I may visit a farm and see 10 resource concerns – or in other words, opportunities for the farmer to install conservation practices that make the land more sustainable and profitable,” he said. “We then connect farmers with local NRCS personnel who can assist in applying for EQIP funds to make the necessary changes.”

EQIP financial assistance allows producers to install conservation practices in areas such as improving irrigation efficiency, promoting soil health or restoring pastureland on their farm or ranch, White said. In some cases, access to assistance has helped producers keep their family farm in business.

“A farmer can get up to $450,000 for the life of the 2018 Farm Bill from EQIP,” he said. “Let’s say a good crop made me $100,000, but I had spent $50,000 that season. Receiving an additional $40,000 in EQIP funds could make the difference between making a loan payment or not.”

EQIP often shares up to 90 percent of the average cost for conservation practices implemented by socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning and veteran farmers and ranchers. These producers are also eligible to receive up to 50 percent advance payment for purchasing materials or contracting services to begin the installation of approved conservation practices.

Applying for benefits

Farmers can apply for conservation practices year-round. Payments are made after conservation practices and activities identified in an EQIP-approved contract and plan are implemented to NRCS standards. Contracts can last up to 10 years.

Despite EQIP’s popularity, some small farmers still do not know all the benefits or may not think the program applies to their operations, White said.

“Some farmers may worry that they don’t have enough acreage – but putting a high tunnel on one acre or less will still get the farmer a payment,” he said. “However, payment on one acre will not be as much as those in the previous example where the farmer received $40,000 in payments.”

White said others may be reluctant when they understand that EQIP is a reimbursement program. But they don’t need to worry.

“For example, if a farmer is growing vegetables and pays $10,000 to have a well or pumping plant installed, NRCS will send an agent out to inspect the practice,” he said. “If it meets standards and specifications, NRCS will pay up to 90 percent of the average cost.”

Producers can pick up and submit an EQIP application at their local NRCS office. The application form is also available online at www.nrcs.usda.gov. UAPB Small Farm Program Extension personnel can assist participants in filling out applications and selecting practices to apply for if needed. Producers can contact Karen Lee at [email protected] or (870) 575-7225 for assistance.

Source: UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

TAGS: USDA
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