For the Love of Goats
If your farm plans are bigger than your budget and you’re not even sure where to start, help is available. Your local USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service office can help you with technical assistance, cost-share programs, and grants.
Joshua Hammond, a public affairs specialist with the NRCS, joins us in the podcast to discuss some of the projects the government agency can help you with, including rotational grazing, fencing, and irrigation. For example, a specialist can come to your farm and develop a rotational grazing plan for you and then can help pay for it with a government grant. One hundred seventy conservation practices are at the root of what the NRCS does, such as using high tunnels, cover crops, composting, and irrigation water management.
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For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:17
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is going to be a really interesting episode for a lot of you who are not aware of the fact that there is essentially free money available to help you with your farm. We are joined today by Joshua Hammond, who is a public affairs specialist with the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Welcome to the show today, Joshua.
Joshua Hammond 0:47
Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Deborah Niemann 0:49
I’m so excited to have you because it is always surprising to me when I talk to people who are not aware of the fact that they can get government grants to help them with their farm. And you are just like one little segment because you’re with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, but there’s also like rural business development grants and several other government agencies that also have grants. So when we get done talking today, we’re going to, I’m going to ask you for some links where people can get more information. But also, if they don’t find what they need with the NRCS, maybe they’ll find it with another government organization that has grants. So tell us specifically, what does NRCS do?
Joshua Hammond 1:35
Well, specifically, what we do is we offer voluntary programs to eligible landowners and producers, and then we in turn provide technical and financial assistance to help manage the natural resources in a sustainable manner on their property. The technical assistance is free and the financial assistance is money provided by the 2018 Farm Bill. Currently, I know we’re still working on the 2023 Farm Bill, and in the meantime, that’s what we’re working with.
Deborah Niemann 2:02
Okay. And when you say you provide technical assistance, what exactly does that mean?
Joshua Hammond 2:08
The technical assistance is in the form of a conservation plan. That could be, you know, rotational grazing plan, fencing plan, irrigation. Technical things that a farmer or a landowner could use to help better conserve natural resources.
Deborah Niemann 2:24
Okay. And in that case, they would just like go to their local NRCS office and ask for that assistance?
Joshua Hammond 2:32
Yes. And the best part about it is usually our USDA agencies are co-located. So if you don’t have an answer from us, there’s also the Farm Service Agency, and there’s also the Rural Development Centers. And I would also count your state soil and water conservation districts as well. At the USDA Service Centers, it’s essentially a one-stop shop for a lot of programs that people could be eligible for. Like say my agency with NRCS, there’s also the Farm Service Agency and then the Rural Development Centers. And we’re broken down by county. Like, for example, I’m in North Carolina and we have 100 counties. Each county has their own USDA Service Center. And that would be the same for Illinois, New York, West Virginia, and just right on down the line.
Deborah Niemann 3:20
Okay. And then one of the first things that you told me about earlier was how you can help farmers with rotational grazing.
Joshua Hammond 3:29
Yes, we can develop a grazing plan. In fact, we hire grazing specialists. So we have scientists specifically tailored to grazing to help inform farmers who could be new or even your older farmers who, you know, like my granddaddy did it, my daddy did it, so I’m going to do it. And we can offer a fresh perspective on how to utilize the land. And then with the grazing plan can come other conservation practices like fencing or access control, which that’s more about water quality, but still that’s out there.
Deborah Niemann 4:02
Okay. And so then somebody can draw up the plan and then you have grants available to help pay for the fencing to create the paddocks for the rotational grazing?
Joshua Hammond 4:12
Well, we would, our agency does cost share. It wouldn’t be a full like free ride, but we can help offset those costs. And we can also, again, it goes back to that plan, we can provide that plan for free. So if it takes a little bit to get invested into it, you at least know what you’re looking at.
Deborah Niemann 4:32
Joshua Hammond 4:33
But yes, there is a, you do get a personalized plan for your property and what you’re trying to accomplish. Or if you’re looking to add on to things, like say you want to do rotational grazing because you just, you found out how great it was, the benefits to soil health and crops, but you don’t know where to start. And that’s where we can kind of come in and help with that planning process as well.
Deborah Niemann 4:56
Joshua Hammond 4:58
And the best part about it is it’s an individualized plan for a particular farmer. It’s not a one size fits all thing. The idea is the rep would go to have a one-on-one meeting with you and discuss what you’re trying to accomplish and then actually see on the property what’s available and then develop a plan to that property.
Deborah Niemann 5:21
All right. And then is there any specific size, like nothing smaller than a certain size or bigger than a certain size in terms of the farm or head of animals or anything?
Joshua Hammond 5:31
And that’s the best part. I know that might be a myth out there, but the size and location of production is irrelevant for program eligibility. When I talked about EQIP being our main program, size and location of production doesn’t matter. Like I guess what I’m saying, we want to help everybody from the large farms to our smaller farms.
Deborah Niemann 5:55
So is it just for income producing farms?
Joshua Hammond 5:58
Actually, no. There is no minimum agricultural income or product value requirement for determining eligibility. Like you can be a straight subsistence farmer. Like you just farm and you eat what you farm.
Deborah Niemann 6:10
Okay. That is really great because I know I do have people on both ends of that spectrum who are listening to the podcast, people who are just producing for their own consumption all the way to the other end for people who have a big business with their goats. Can you tell us, you said EQIP, which I know that’s E-Q-I-P, but can you explain that?
Joshua Hammond 6:33
Yeah. It stands for Environmental Quality Incentive Program. So when I say EQIP, I naturally just default to our acronym. That program is essentially our bread and butter. That’s how we’re able to tailor specific practices towards that producer. And it could be up to the imagination of the producer and the person working with them. So for example, here in North Carolina, we were able to use EQIP for our oyster farms because it was based on water filtration because oysters are natural water filters. One oyster can filter up, I think, up to 50 gallons a day of water. So by using that example, I’m saying it’s how we’re able to really use EQIP to the maximum benefit to a farmer.
Deborah Niemann 7:18
Okay. Wow. That is really interesting. I never thought that there was a thing such as oyster farming, but it totally makes sense. And it’s really interesting to hear about them filtering the water too. So you had said that in your state of North Carolina, that you had $74 million that could be used by farmers in your state. So what are some of the different cost shares or grants or everything other than, like we mentioned some of the rotational grazing? What are some of the other projects that that will fund?
Joshua Hammond 7:54
Well, NRCS has over 170 conservation practices. Some of the more common practices on a small scale slash urban setting have been high tunnel systems, cover crops, composting facilities, and irrigation water management systems. But those are just, again, four of the 170 plus conservation practices. So essentially the sky is the limit as far as what somebody wants to accomplish. Because again, we cover everything here in our state from confined animal operations to some of those things I just mentioned, the oyster filtration stuff.
Deborah Niemann 8:31
So you said 170 different conservation practices are covered in the different grants and everything?
Joshua Hammond 8:39
Yep. And that’s going to vary by state a little differently, but overall, yes, there’s over 170 practices that can be used. And again, that’s why it’s so important to work with an individual farmer because that farmer is going to have individual needs and individual natural resource concerns.
Deborah Niemann 8:56
Okay. So where would people find out about what is available in their state?
Joshua Hammond 9:03
Well, I mean, I would venture to say everything’s on the table. Again, it’s going to be tailored to that individual property. Yeah, there’s some commonalities, like cover crops, for example, or high tunnel systems. But I mean, some of the conservation practices are going to vary by state. I would recommend first linking up with the state specific agency. I’m in North Carolina, so I would look up my county’s USDA service center and kind of go in there with a plan. Have an idea of what you want to accomplish. And I would say to the person, you know, hey, don’t be self-selecting, just go in there with your plan and then we will work with you to accomplish that plan.
Deborah Niemann 9:44
Is there a place online where people can learn more about this?
Joshua Hammond 9:48
Yes. Each individual state has their own website, like for example, North Carolina has their own EQIP specific place. The NRCS as a whole agency has their own. And then within each site, there’s a service center locator. So if I want to know who to get a hold of in my county, there’s that service center locator tool available to me.
Deborah Niemann 10:12
So if somebody is searching online, would they look for the like- the name of their county “USDA” or the name of their county “NRCS” or what exactly- how would they find it online?
Joshua Hammond 10:27
I would go NRCS and then their particular state and that’ll direct them to their state specific website. And then there’ll be a whole host of tools and information available to them. Like I go in, I’ll type in NRCS North Carolina, that’ll pull up our webpage. It’ll have our specific program information and then our state office information, some good tools to use, infographics, et cetera. Like there’s the Web Soil Survey tool for states out West that would be impacted by snow. There’s a snow impact tool and how that affects soil health and the surrounding environment. I’m saying it really is dependent on the state. But if I’m a user, that’s what I would do, type in NRCS and then their state and that’ll pull up what they would need to know.
Deborah Niemann 11:17
Okay. So I think one thing that might worry people a little bit is that when you hear about grants and cost sharing programs and stuff like this, you think like, oh my goodness, there’s a big long application process and it’s very competitive. So I’m going to spend 10, 20 hours filling this out and then I’m probably not going to get it anyway. From what I’ve heard from people who’ve applied, that’s not really the way that it works out. Can you talk about that a little bit? Like how much work is involved in applying for these things and then how competitive is it?
Joshua Hammond 11:53
Well, as far as the application process, it’s really simple on the producer’s end. For example, our application sheet is two pages and it’s very basic content information, the name of your operation, what you’re trying to do, and then kind of the breakdown of the ownership. So it’s really, it’s not intensive and it’s not intrusive. I know that might be a concern about how much information are you asking, why are you asking this information? And we want to dispel that. We just want the very basic stuff, who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish
Joshua Hammond 12:25
And I know we talk about competitiveness. There might be a fear of me as a homesteader being out-competed by the bigger guys. And to be fair, I mean, maybe in the past that might’ve been true, but I’d say with the present administration’s investment with conservation efforts through IRA, I would like to think that a lot of that competition is going to be mitigated. I think that states and the federal government are really invested and serious about conservation efforts, especially on farms. And I really think there’s enough room for everybody. So people who are a little concerned about the competitiveness, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. It goes back to the old saying, don’t self-select.
Joshua Hammond 13:15
So in that, there might’ve been schools you wanted to go to or certain selection processes, and you wouldn’t because you don’t think you’re good enough or you’re not ready. So I say that, don’t self-select. I would use that same mental process in this situation too. Go in there and just have your plan, what you want to accomplish, and then we’ll work with you. And if it doesn’t work out for you just yet, we don’t say no. What happens is your application, if it might not rank high enough to get funded, will get put in a queue. So as an example, if you don’t make it this year, you stay in the queue until you pull out. And then we see about next fiscal year. But again, with the amount of funding that’s coming to the states, I honestly don’t think that should be a concern right now.
Deborah Niemann 14:05
Wow. That’s really good news. Is there anything else that people should know before they go to the website or pick up the phone and call their local NRCS office?
Joshua Hammond 14:16
I think going in and having a plan. Like, hey, I’m Josh Hammond. I want to do this with my property. And it’s funny, I’m glad I get to talk to homesteaders because me and my wife are essentially homesteaders ourselves with chickens and some fruit trees that we have. And coming from a farming background myself, I definitely appreciate and understand some of the mental challenges out there of working with federal agencies and almost like an information overload out there. But again, I think having a vision for your farm and kind of going in there with that vision with NRCS, FSA and others, I think it goes a long way.
Joshua Hammond 14:56
And I want to say also, don’t discount the states that you’re in. The Department of Agriculture for each state, I think, is, again, serious about conservation efforts. I know our state is, especially with easements. North Carolina, it’s kind of like a catch-22 with North Carolina. We’re developing rapidly, having a lot of tech industries coming in, which is great. But at the same time, we’re losing a lot of farmland. We’re second behind Texas in amount of acres lost. So with each acre lost, it becomes kind of a challenge in how to best utilize what we have and feed people.
Joshua Hammond 15:33
As I just recently saw that North Carolina, despite all the good things, there’s still some economic challenges that we have to deal with as far as food security. There are food deserts here. And with us losing the farmland that we are doing, our challenge comes now is, well, how do we feed everybody? How do we get access to fresh, healthy food sources? And I think that’s where homesteaders or our small-scale-slash-urban farmers are going to really help fill that void in getting access to that food. So again, I think from a personal standpoint, I want to say thank you to all your listeners. And I know farming is not easy, subsistence farming is not easy. So again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Deborah Niemann 16:16
Well, thank you.
Joshua Hammond 16:17
And one final thing. They might see some application deadlines. Don’t worry if they miss that deadline. I’d still say apply anyway. We accept applications year-round. Just for our own administrative timelines, we set cutoff dates. But don’t let those cutoff dates discourage you. Still go in there with your plan. We will still work with you. It’s one of those situations where if you miss a cutoff date, we’re not going to be like, well, hey, sorry. Come next year. No. We’ll still take you in, still work with you, still develop your conservation plan, and go from there. So again, we’re getting towards the end of first quarter. So I know a lot of our states have cutoff dates set about right now. I would say don’t let that discourage you. Just still go in there with your plan, and we’ll work with you.
Deborah Niemann 17:05
Okay, that is really great to know. Did you say you’re getting close to the end of first quarter?
Joshua Hammond 17:10
Yes, we operate by fiscal years, starting in October. We’re getting towards November-December timeframe, so we’re in the middle of first quarter, getting towards the end of first quarter. And I know what I’m saying is a lot of our application cutoff dates are around this time. I’m only bringing that up to be transparent with our listeners, and then also to let them know don’t let that discourage you. For example, our EQIP date is November 3rd here in North Carolina, but we accept applications year-round. And that’s kind of what I’m getting after is like, hey, still go in there with your plan. And we’ll be more than happy to work with you.
Deborah Niemann 17:47
Okay, that sounds great. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a really fascinating conversation, and I bet a lot of people are going to be online checking out your website or the website for their state, as well as going into their local offices now to see what’s available for them.
Joshua Hammond 18:05
Yep, thanks for having me. I’m glad I could share this information and get to talk to you. Appreciate it. And feel free to have me on again. I love talking about this stuff.
Deborah Niemann 18:13
Okay, great. Thank you.
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the subscribe button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com. And you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now.