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Farm Aid: National Resources Conservation Service offers help

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is ready to help farmers, big and small, with cost-share programs, expert advice and more.
District Conservationist Phil Hall is new to the area, but his wealth of experience and knowledge in natural resources is ready to help anyone who has questions. Hall can inspect the soil of land someone might be thinking about purchasing and let them know what would be best to plant – timber, corn, grass for grazing cows.
With 26 years with the USDA and 13 years with the NRCS in Hinesville, Valdosta, and Springfield offices, Hall is more than capable of giving free expert advice and he wants farmers to know he’s ready to help.
The NRCS handles all natural resources – labeled as SWAPAH. SWAPAH stands for soil, water, animals, plants, air and humans. The government entity supplies information on all of those resources and takes a science-based approach, leaving the politics to other parts of the government, Hall said.
One way NRCS helps farms are cost-share programs. These programs are similar to grants, where local farmers apply with a specific project in mind, like a cement base for a water trough to prevent soil runoff, and then the NRCS compiles all the projects in the Southeastern state region, sorts them by rank of project impact, and then selects a large portion to fund.
About 50 to 60 percent of applications are funded, Hall said. The Southeastern state region receives about $400,000 from the Farm Bill to go toward these projects. The projects can range from a fenced trail that allows cattle to cross a stream at a specific point to reduce soil erosion and pollution of the stream or supplying grass to plant in unused sections of farms to help keep nutrients in the soil for crops the next year.
To apply for grants farmers have to produce and/or sell $1,000 worth of crops and not sell and/or produce more than $300,000 worth. A watermelon vender can get a cost-share for a building similar to a greenhouse, or a cattle farmer can get assistance with grazing grass.
“We offer free services too,” Hall said. “It’s not just about applying and getting money, we’re not emphasizing that. It’s helping people help the land.”
In Screven County, the NRCS’ largest cattle farm has thus far has been the 900-plus dairy cow farm called Green Meadows Dairy. Hall regularly works with the milk producer to reduce land erosion at the site, due to the light sloping hills of the land. Hall commented that the land was actually better suited for cattle than crops because of the hills.
Hall said he’s worked with farmers on one acre of land to multi-thousand acre row farms.
Cecelia T. Barton, soil conservation technician, considers her home Screven County and wants people in the area to get help from the NRCS. Barton has been actively working to get Hall out in Screven County and the neighboring counties, introducing him and telling anyone who crosses paths about the services offered by the conservation program.
“These farmers need to know,” she said. “We want to get the word out to them so they have an opportunity as well, and don’t come in here after the fact. We don’t want to come in after the deadline.”
The NRCS takes applications every day while open, but does have changing deadlines year to year. The best way to find out the deadline for initiatives, programs and the like is by going to the NRCS office inside the Screven County Courthouse or by calling (912) 564-2207 and selecting extension number 3.