CATEGORY: Clay County

AUTHOR: EILEEN

HED: Help available for Clay's soil and water conservation efforts

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

WEST POINT -A little more than a decade ago Mississippi ranked No. 3 in the nation for the highest soil loss at 10 tons per acre per year.

Today, the average loss has dropped to 3 tons to 5 tons per acre per year. The decrease can be attributed to the cooperation of farmers and successful incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said one conservationist.

Van Williams, district conservationist with the National Resource Conservation Service in West Point, said a new program formed under the USDA's 1996 Farm Bill hopes to continue the trend of decreasing soil erosion by offering incentives.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is an extension of a program formed under the 1985 Farm Bill that required stricter conservation of the soil.

The voluntary program began in January with public meetings to notify landowners that assistance was available, Williams said. Of the possible 600 to 800 landowners in Clay County who could benefit from the program, only 35 have applied.

The conservation program, which is found in every county in the state and nationwide, is for landowners who face threats to soil, water and related natural resources. It provides technical, financial and educational assistance primarily in designated priority areas.

"Under this program the major emphasis is on whole farm planning instead of specific problems," Williams said.

Local work groups defined seven areas in the state as priority areas largely involving watersheds or areas of special environmental sensitivity. Lee County as well as parts of Pontotoc, Itawamba and Prentiss counties have been placed in a priority area called the Upper Tombigbee Basin, mainly because of the water supplied to the area from the Tombigbee River.

All other areas in Northeast Mississippi are eligible because of statewide concerns that may occur outside of the designated priority areas, Williams said. Those concerns include excessive erosion, grazing lands, animal waste and water quality.

Once qualifying landowners apply, a conservation plan is developed to address their particular problem. The applications must then be approved for that fiscal year.

About 65 percent of the funds allotted to the state, which is around $4.3 million, will be used for designated priority areas and up to 35 percent can be used for other statewide natural resource concerns.

EQIP offers 5 to 10 year contracts that provide incentive payments and cost sharing for conservation practices established in the site-specific plan, Williams said.

"It (EQIP) puts the money to major needs instead of spreading it out," he said.

Total cost-share and incentive payments are limited to $10,000 per person per year and $50,000 for the length of the contract.

Under the cost-share program, up to 75 percent of the costs to fulfill the conservation plan will be paid through EQIP. The remainder of the cost will paid by the landowner. Conservation practices in the cost-share program include grassed waterways, filter strips, manure management facilities and capping abandoned wells.

The incentive program is used to encourage the landowner to perform land management practices such as limited tilling, nutrient management, manure management and irrigation water management. Those payments are provided for up to three years, Williams said.

To apply for this year, Williams said "timing is tight." But applications can be taken for next year.

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