Tips for Working with NRCS
Are you a farm or forestland owner about to embark on a new contract with NRCS? Maybe you’re interested in signing up for NRCS programs for the first time? Either way, these tips are for you!
Recently I was asked to share what wisdom I have gained over 27 years with USDA NRCS. In thinking about how to do that, I realized that most of what I have learned has been from my clients. During the process of planning, designing, and completing projects we usually run into one problem or another, and it’s only by working to understand each other and the problem that we manage to find a way forward. Every farm is different, but I have a few tips that can apply to most situations, and I will share them here. Some of you may recognize yourselves in these suggestions:
Communicate your needs throughout the process and don’t assume that the NRCS person knows about your farm and your goals. They know about their programs and their standards, but you know your farm best, and you will be living with the project after it is finished.
Go to field days and workshops to see and hear what other farms are doing.
Get estimates from contractors and suppliers early on, before your contract is set in stone, so that you know what your out of pocket costs are likely to be. NRCS payments are “flat rate,” and not adjusted to your actual cost.
Try out a practice or technology on a small area before committing to installing it on your entire farm.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Make sure you can comfortably commit the time, management, and money to complete your project successfully and on time. Some projects are best implemented in phases, especially for new farms, where your business plan is evolving.
NRCS funded practices have “lifespans” of 1 to 20 years depending on the practice. You’re expected to maintain that practice in usable condition for its lifespan. Ask what the lifespan is, for practices that you are considering.
Set yourself up with a good email service and a printer/scanner so that you can process paperwork quickly. Email also gives you a record of what was said in case there is confusion later on.
Keep your paperwork organized so that you can manage your obligations under your contract, and keep track of cost and payment information.
NRCS financial assistance is competitive and driven by resource concerns. The chances of having your project selected for funding are improved by working with your planner to identify and address resource concerns.
Be easy to help. Communicate, pay attention to questions and deadlines, and express your appreciation when you can.
If you’re interested in exploring more about NRCS programming or would like to request a site visit, don’t hesitate to reach out to NRCS at 603-756-2988 x3 or the CCCD at 603-756-2988 x4.
Written by: Heidi Konesko
NRCS Soil Conservationist