By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy
Over the past few weeks, we have discussed the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) at length here on the Beginning Farmer Forum (BFF). CSP provides technical assistance and incentive payments to help beginning farmers establish installations or enhance practices that can reduce input costs or provide a marketing advantage. This week, we’d like to share CSP insights gained from Wisconsin Farmers Union member Jacob James Marty, a conservation-minded beginning farmer. Jacob and his father manage a grass-fed and finished herd of cattle, marketed almost exclusively directly to consumers, at Green Fire Farm in Green County, Wisconsin. Jacob also manages pasture-raised and farrowed hogs, grass-fed sheep, and broilers and layers that spend a lot of time on pasture.
Jacob is enthusiastic about working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through his CSP contract. His practices under contract include managing livestock parturition (birthing) to coincide with forage availability, using nitrogen provided by legumes, using animal manure and compost to supply 90-100% of the nitrogen needs of his pasture and crop fields (rather than synthetic nitrogen fertilizer), providing wildlife escape ramps on livestock water tanks, and hosting a field day. In 2018, Jacob will also plant a 1-acre pollinator strip in a second contract.
The idea to enroll in CSP started with NRCS field staff. Jacob had approached his local office to enroll in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but learned that CSP was a better fit for his “values and techniques.” Jacob also credits local NRCS staff with making the enrollment process relatively painless. “The application process was pretty streamlined for me, as my county staff did a great job explaining it to me. It was quicker and more straightforward than my more complicated contract through EQIP.”
BFF’s goal is to help beginning farmers access greater efficiency, and Jacob lists several such benefits that CSP has helped him achieve for Green Fire Farm. “The most effective and direct way is the incentive payment which rewards my stewardship and helps my business be more profitable. I didn’t have to make many changes to my operation to accommodate the requirements of these practices. It also requires me to document certain practices, which helps me improve my record keeping and decision making. Finally, my field day was a great success, with over 100 people coming to the farm, which helped others learn about our achievements and mistakes, and also helped us secure a few order for our farm products.”
Jacob offers the following advice to farmers interested in working with NRCS to achieve such benefits: “I think the biggest thing is to be patient and to level with your county staff, and be flexible in case things change quickly. The staff really want to help incorporate conservation practices, and they like helping conservation-minded farmers become more successful. At the same time, they have limits to what they can do or help with, and sometimes things out of their control change at the last minute. Every time that happened, they helped us adapt and make the best decision, and we’ve been happy with the outcome. Also, it always helps to do your homework and have a plan or ideas ready for the staff when they come to visit. That way, you can make the most of their time and they’ll be able to make things go quickly for your operation.”
Are you considering partnering with NRCS through their working lands programs, CSP and EQIP? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have experience with NRCS programs that you are willing to share with BFF readers, as Jacob has shared above, please contact Tom Driscoll at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacob James Marty is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology. After graduating, he returned to his family’s sixth generation farm to farm along side his father. They are converting their conventional dairy farm into a regenerative, grass-based, savanna-mimicking operation focused on grass-fed and finished beef cattle and hair sheep and pasture-raised hogs and poultry. Jacob’s interests center around the role and place of humans in the natural world, and how our lifestyles can either preserve and support or degrade life, soil, water, and beauty of the planet.
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