Agricultural and forest producers have an opportunity to submit applications for funding through five conservation initiatives, announced Juan Hernandez, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, applications are being accepted for the On-Farm Energy, Organic, Seasonal High Tunnel, Irrigation and New England/New York Forestry initiatives for fiscal year 2013. The application deadline is Dec. 21, 2012.

NRCS accepts applications for financial assistance on a continuous basis throughout the year; however, applications received for these initiatives by the Dec. 21 deadline will be considered for funding in fiscal year 2013.

Initiatives overview

On-Farm Energy Initiative: NRCS and producers develop Agricultural Energy Management Plans (AgEMP) or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. NRCS then uses audit data to develop energy conservation recommendations. Each AgEMP has a landscape component that assesses equipment and farming processes and a farm headquarters component that assesses power usage and efficiencies in livestock buildings, grain handling operations, and similar facilities to support the farm operation.

Organic Initiative: NRCS helps certified organic growers and producers working to achieve organic certification install conservation practices for organic production. Funding is available to help producers plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns in ways that are consistent with organic production. For example, conservation practices might include planting cover crops, establishing integrated pest management plans, constructing seasonal high tunnels, or implementing nutrient management systems consistent with organic certification standards.

Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative: NRCS helps producers plan and implement high tunnels — steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures that extend growing seasons in an environmentally safe manner. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality, fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment, and better air quality due to fewer vehicles being needed to transport crops.

Irrigation Assistance: For lands with an irrigation history of at least two out of the last five years, technical and financial assistance is available to growers for irrigation-related practices such as irrigation water management plans, irrigation sprinkler or micro-irrigation systems, and alternative irrigation water sources. To address the goal of water resource conservation, the focus of funding in this initiative will be on projects that result in a more efficient irrigation system and/or adherence to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s low flow rule (Chapter 587 In-Stream Flows and Lake and Pond Water Levels regulations).

New England/New York Forestry Initiative: Funding is available to assist Maine forest landowners with forest land planning and management of their private forests to improve wildlife habitat, forest health and productivity, and water quality. Besides providing economic benefits, forests are home to diverse communities of fish and wildlife. Through sound planning and management, private landowners can help keep forests as forests. Eligible conservation practices through this initiative include, but are not limited to, forest stand improvement, early successional habitat development and management, tree/shrub site preparation and establishment, upland wildlife habitat management, brush management, stream crossings, riparian forest buffers, fish passage, forest trails and landings, conservation cover, access roads, wetland restoration and wetland wildlife habitat management.

For more information go to or contact the USDA Service Center in Belfast at 338-1964, ext. 3.