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January 14, 2014

State OKs grants to make farms, water cleaner

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Officials in three local counties welcomed continued state funding for projects geared toward making farms cleaner and safer and protecting water resources.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that $12 million has been designated for the 20th round of the the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Program.

“This is really good news, as it is every year,” Rick Weidenbach, executive director of the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District, said. “It’s a tremendous help to local farmers.”

The competitive grant program awards funds to county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which work with local farmers on projects that make farms cleaner and safer, the governor’s media release said. The funding addresses prevention of “nonpoint source pollution,” which is runoff from agricultural lands that has the potential to enter water resources.

“The whole purpose of this grant is to lessen the impact of ag on water quality,” Scott Fickbohm, district manager of the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District, said. “It’s all for the good of water quality.”

The program already has provided millions to fund improvements, such as fencing, stream crossings and development of alternative water resources, for area farms, district officials in Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties said.

Fencing keeps cattle out of streams, thereby protecting water quality and preventing stream-bed erosion, district officials said. Other projects assist with manure management, they said, or fund barnyard roofs to prevent runoff issues.

“There are all kinds of things you can apply for,” Stephen Hoerz, district manager of the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation district, said. The state funding help meets on-going needs, he said.

In Otsego County, nine farmers are involved in previously funded projects, Fickbohm said.

The state grant covers 75 percent of the project, with the remaining 25 percent covered by the farmer, district officials said, and dairy and non-dairy farms may apply. The program is voluntary, they said, and farmers benefit with financial assistance for improvements that otherwise might be too costly.

“Farmers are hard-pressed these days,” Weidenbach said. “Projects get expensive.”

Conservation districts apply the state’s Agricultural Environmental Management framework, which sets water quality priorities and helps farmers develop plans to qualify for implementation through the AgNPS Program.

AEM helps farmers make common sense, cost-effective and science-based decisions to help meet business goals while protecting and conserving the natural resources, the release said.

Currently, more than 13,000 farms participate in AEM, which has helped install 5,000 new conservation practices with the assistance of AgNPS Program funds, the release said. Since the program’s inception in 1993, the state has dedicated more than $125 million to the AgNPS Program.

In Delaware County, four farms are candidates for the program this year and at least one application is expected, Weidenbach said.

The funding is made available to county Soil and Water Conservation districts through the state Environmental Protection Fund, the governor’s release said, and grants will be administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and the state Soil and Water Conservation Committee.

“With our support, New York’s farms are going to continue to expand, creating more jobs and making our state’s home-grown products popular across the country,” Cuomo said in the release.

The application deadline for the grants is March 31.