Friday, April 7th, 2017
SWCD's resolution supported
By Nancy Allen
A state organization that protects soil and water resources has endorsed a local resolution to discourage misuse of federal funds and ag conservation structures, Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District board members learned Thursday.
The state delegate body of Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in February endorsed the resolution submitted by the Mercer SWCD. The resolution authorizes the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to fine and collect refunds when producers use structures and buildings financed with Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds for anything unrelated to manure management.
The resolution states that a farmer must use the structure as intended for the life of the practice rather than the life of the contract. Contracts typically span 3-6 years while the lifespan of structures are typically 10-15 years, leaving significant time when NRCS has no authority over structures built with its funds, the resolution says.
If the resolution is approved, it could become part of federal NRCS guidelines, said Nikki Hawk, Mercer SWCD district administrator/education specialist. The process could take 18 months or more before the new regulation is in place, Hawk said.
The Mercer SWCD board in December first discussed submitting the resolution. At that meeting, Ryan Kemper, NRCS district conservationist for Mercer County, said he had received complaints about producers who had received federal funds to construct dry-stack manure storage buildings and then later used them to store farm equipment or house livestock. Mercer SWCD technician Matt Heckler said he had received similar complaints.
The resolution would cover any structure installed using EQIP funds, including feed lot covers and holding ponds. Locally officials have received the most complaints about misuse of dry-stack manure storage buildings, Heckler said.
EQIP funds help farmers pay to install practices designed to stem runoff from manure that can pollute water bodies.
The resolution says "if it is determined that an EQIP funded structure is being utilized for a purpose other than the original intent resulting in a resource concern, the producer will be required to pay liquidated damages and will not be eligible for a new EQIP contract to address the same resource concern for the lifespan of the existing structure."
"The concern is that people could use the buildings to store farm equipment or other uses it wasn't intended for and pile their manure outside," district technician Matt Heckler said. "That can cause a resource concern."
Heckler noted that the Farm Service Agency has a similar mechanism to issue fines for infractions.
Board members on Thursday also,
• set its annual meeting and election of board members for Nov. 16 at the Coldwater American Legion hall.
• set the next regular Mercer SWCD meeting at 8:30 a.m. on May 11.
• tabled a decision on purchasing new office furniture until Hawk can provide additional information.