NEPC 2013 Annual Meeting: Agency Reports

Two agency reports were prepared for the Reports Session Friday afternoon, February 8. They could not be delivered due to the cancellation of the second day of the Conference, February 8 due to a major snow storm that swept in Friday.

James B. Dobrowolski, USDA-National Institute of Food & Agriculture National Program Leader for Rangeland and Grassland Ecosystems, prepared a presentation, NIFA Update: USDA’s Extramural Funding for Pasture and Grazing Land Re-search, Education and Outreach. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack’s priority areas remain that agriculture must address: climate change, bioenergy, food safety, nutrition, and international food security. Under Secretary Cathy Woteki, Chief Scientist, REE Mission Area, released the final Strategic Action Plan with pertinent Goals, Strategies, and Actions. The Plan drives research, education, and outreach efforts in the near future. The Plan also ensures that we report outcomes. Operationally, we are into the third year of the larger Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAP) and standard grants. Budgets are reduced, so project budgets are reduced. We have funded large grants for wheat, conifers, and others. Your time was last year!

Agency Extramural Funding for Grazing Land Research, Education and Outreach by Program:

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI):

  • Climate Change Challenge Area (no CAP in FY 2013)
  • Bioenergy Challenge Area (FY 2013 RFA still waiting to be released)
  • Sustainable Food Systems to Improve Food Security Challenge Area (Standard Grants, $4 M) (This includes sustainable food production, processing, distribution, marketing, consumer preferences and food choices, farmer prosperity, and natural resource issues, such as water quality, air quality, and soil health.)

AFRI Foundational:

  • Renewable Energy, Natural Resources and Environment (RENRE)—air, water and soil nutrient and CEC issues ($17 M, FY 2013 RFA close on February 21)
  • Plant Health and Production and Plant Products ($37 M, 2012 RFA in production)

Non-AFRI:

  • National Integrated Water Quality Program—Funded pasture-related water quality and quantity efforts (e.g., Chesapeake Bay watershed ($4.5M, zeroed out in 2013)
  • Rangeland Research Program—Funded in 2012 and zeroed out in 2013—about $1 M,
  • RREA National Focus Funds—Lost $0.5 M, $300K
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher—currently zeroed out ($20 M)
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)—zeroed out ($20 M)
  • SARE—currently untouched ($14 M)
  • Hatch—untouched ($236 M).

The Natural Resources Conservation Service agency report was prepared by Kevin Ogles, Grazing Specialist, East National Technology Support Center, USDA-NRCS.

Fence – changes for financial assistance eligibility for Fence in several farm bill programs took place from input by several farmer organizations. Now perimeter/boundary fence can be financially assisted through EQIP. For example, if the field being put into pasture, and prescribed grazing implemented, it is eligible if the field is 1) a ‘Highly Erodible Land’ designated cropland field, or 2) a field coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program

National Resources Inventory on Pastureland will take place on all states with pasture segments (formerly called PSU-Point Sampling Units). Funding was secured from last year and held over to do the data collection from pasture segments. The amount of segments needed to be completed by the end of the growing season varies by state based on total acres in pasture.

For example, Kentucky has the most points to collect data on as they have the most pasture in the East region of NRCS. Training sessions are planned for this spring. This will give us the first scientifically based ‘condition’ of the U.S. pastures after a few years of data is entered in from the states in-field pasture protocols (various measurements) collections.

Forage Suitability Groups (FSGs) – for the first time in all regions, several states have begun development of FSGs. When these are completed they will be a tremendous help for NRCS, Conservation District and Technical Service Provider planners on pasture and hay land. The NTSCs have assisted 7 states in the last year to begin development of FSGs. Several more have requested assistance with this for the remaining of the calendar year.

Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) – For the first time in over 20 years, GLCI will not be allocated as part of NRCS states operations budgets. However, Chief White and the current acting Chief, Jason Weller, want NRCS states to continue to work with producer groups in promoting good grazing management on the land. Some states have lost grazing specialists and others are increasing the number of grazing specialists that they have on NRCS staff in their states. GLCI seems to be holding steady in these times. The 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands was the best technically in presentations so far, even though it was one of the lowest attended. Many positive comments on the quality of the sessions have been received by the administrative staff of the GLCI.

Dennis Thompson retired after a 30+ year career with NRCS and 16 of those were in NRCS National Headquarters (NHQ). Dennis’ constancy and leadership will be missed sorely. However, he may come back on part-time in one of the methods NRCS can use to bring back recently retired staff to pass on their knowledge to other active employees. Dennis’ position, the National Range and Pasture Ecologist, is considered a priority by NHQ. The plan from NHQ is to have a few people acting for 120 day intervals, until the budget allows the position to be posted in a vacancy announcement for a full-time permanent position replacement of Dennis.

Like most government employees, we are waiting to see if/when a budget is passed that will allow us to plan farther than a few months ahead. Best wishes on a great meeting and I hope to be with you in person next year and that the ‘new’ person in Dennis’ former position will be there as well.

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