USDA Conservation Program Keeping Puerto Rico Water Sources Clean

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Through USDA Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Puerto Rico’s Moises Velez-Santiago has protected his farm’s watershed, improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat.

Moises Velez-Santiago has been farming in Puerto Rico nearly three decades and understands the important role farming can play in protecting water quality for the island’s 3.5 million residents. Through the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Velez-Santiago has strived to obtain a balance of environmental conservation and crop production.

He has been working the land on his current 58-acre farm for 28 years where he grows and cultivates coffee, plantains and oranges. Continue reading

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USDA Farm Service Agency Hails Two Environmental Milestones in One Year: The 30th Anniversary of the Conservation Reserve Program, and 1 Million Acres Enrolled in its Wildlife Protection Offshoot.

North Dakota farmer, Harry Schlenker, enrolled the 1 millionth acre in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) when he enrolled 312 acres in LaMoure County.


By: Dan Janes, Communications Coordinator and GIS Management Analyst, North Dakota Farm Service Agency

In addition to celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), also recently observed 1 million acres enrolled in a subset of the program which protects wildlife, with the milestone occurring in the State of North Dakota. Continue reading

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Pollinator Habitat Not Just for Bees

by Dan Janes, Communications Coordinator and GIS Management Analyst, North Dakota Farm Service Agency

Bruce Pantzke's CRP enhanced with pollinator habitat also provides vital nesting cover for both upland game and waterfowl.

Bruce Pantzke’s CRP enhanced with pollinator habitat also provides vital nesting cover for both upland game and waterfowl.

When most people think of pollinator habitat, they think of bees and butterflies.  Bruce Pantzke is thinking of pheasants.  “The diversity of plants in a pollinator mix attracts a lot of beneficial insects, which in turn provides a great food source for pheasant chicks, and it provides great nesting habitat,” Pantzke said.

Pantzke first heard about the benefits of pollinator habitats through Pheasants Forever at the annual Pheasant Fest meeting.  When he offered land on his farm near Fort Ransom, North Dakota, under a general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup, he opted to enhance the offered acres with pollinator habitat to improve the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) that Farm Service Agency (FSA) uses to rank the land, increasing the chance that his offer would be accepted.

Once the CRP offer was accepted, Pantzke enlisted the help of Susan Muske, district manager for the LaMoure County Soil Conservation District to get the pollinator habitat established.   “It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of time, but it’s definitely worth it.  And Bruce has been very devoted to making this work,” Muske said. “Patience is really important, because it can take two or three, even five years for some of these plants to become established.”

One of the challenges Pantzke has faced has been eliminating introduced brome grasses and getting native grasses and wildflowers to take hold.  Pantzke said that good seedbed preparation is key.  “Weed control can be a challenge, but you have to change how you think about weeds and realize that as long as they are not getting out of hand, they’re part of the diversity.  After all, you don’t want to kill the good with the bad.”

Seed heads from last year’s purple coneflower dot a 30-acre field that was part of Pantzke’s CRP offer.  Later in the summer, the field will be covered with blanketflower, providing a great benefit to the honeybees flying from hives located across the gravel road.  “I don’t doubt that those hives are located there because of this field,” Pantzke said.  Shortly after pointing out the hives, a blue-winged teal bursts from the grass, revealing a clutch of 8 eggs.

“It’s a domino effect,” Muske said, referring to the diverse wildlife utilizing the pollinator habitats that Pantzke has established.  As the diversity of the plant community increases, a wider range of animals are able to make use of the land, from songbirds and upland game to waterfowl and large mammals like white-tailed deer.

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USDA Conservation Program Expands Pollinator Habitat in Michigan

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Michigan landowners, Paul and Becky Rogers, used a USDA conservation program to convert 14 acres of land in Kent County to a pollinator habitat that is home to more than 50 species of wild bees that supplement fruit and vegetable pollination in the state’s fruit ridge.

By:  Brian Buehler, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Public Affairs Specialist

Paul and Becky Rogers enjoy much more than flowers on their land in Kent County after converting 14 acres to native pollinator habitat eight years ago through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

After learning that the SAFE program helps landowners establish diverse grassland and pollinator habitats, the Rogers were immediately interested. Continue reading

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Farm Family Doing their Part to Help Protect Top Trout Stream in Connecticut

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A small commitment from the Irelands protects a Connecticut trout stream that flows into the Natchaug River. The Irelands use USDA conservation programs to improve water quality and prevent erosion on the stream bank.

Windham County farmers, William III and Sally Ireland, know they are fortunate to live so close to one of the state’s top trout streams that runs nearly 18 miles through northeastern Connecticut.

The Natchaug River is a trophy trout stream, which means that it is stocked annually with a higher proportion of larger fish. Continue reading

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Launching the Celebration

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#CRP is 30

By Val Dolcini, FSA Administrator

Last week, I met Ricky Bauer at his farm in nearby Howard County, Maryland. It’s amazing how such rural beauty is hidden between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, which nearly touch in one huge megalopolis. But in parts of Howard County, they don’t. Active, rolling farms still exist in Maryland and are quite productive.

Meeting Ricky on his farm allowed me to step out from behind my desk to walk land that has been enrolled in FSA’s Conservation Reserve Program almost from the beginning of the program.  That’s the topic I want to share.

Our goal for the day was to record a video message that introduces a website, which I encourage you to mark on your browser’s favorites. The web address is  If you’re among the social media users, Tweet to your friends with the hash tag #CRPis30 and direct them to the site. We’re going to post 30 success stories about CRP from now until the anniversary month.

Here are some messages about our highly regarded conservation program that I talk about in the video that I’d like to reiterate.

On Dec. 23rd, we celebrate 30 years since the program began with the signing of the 1985 Farm Bill. Thirty years is not a long time in historic record keeping, but it is a milestone we celebrate because of the major accomplishments that CRP has achieved.

One of the principal goals of CRP was to prevent soil erosion, a concern in 1985 and still today. The program has prevented more than eight billion tons of soil from leaving farmers’ fields.

Runoff of damaging chemicals had also become a major concern in the 1980s, especially for aquatic ecosystems. CRP did much to arrest that concern. It helped reduce phosphorus runoff from cropland by 85 percent, and 95 percent of the nitrogen was stopped.

CRP also has aided air quality in America. Forty-three million tons of greenhouse gases are prevented annually, which is equivalent to taking eight million cars off the road.

Today, more than 170-thousand miles of streams and rivers are protected by CRP riparian and grass buffers.  Nearly 300-thousand acres of flood-plain wetlands have been created.

CRP was expected to conserve soil in 1985, but it has done much more. It is a program everyone needs to celebrate, not just farmers, ranchers and rural America.  Urban dwellers, sportsmen and commercial fishermen are among the beneficiaries of CRP.

CRP matters to our farmers and ranchers. They and their families are great stewards of the land because the land must be preserved for the next generation and the ones that follow.

We honor our nation’s farmers and ranchers; we honor the many organizations that have supported CRP since its beginning. We are getting ready to mark an important date in our history – the creation of the Conservation Reserve Program.

Join us in thanking the thousands of farmers and ranchers who voluntarily choose to participate in CRP. And join us in celebrating the success of a program that is surpassing all expectations.

I want to send a personal thank you to Ricky Bauer, not only for hosting the TV crew and me as we recorded the video, but for caring for the land he farms. In Ricky, I found a perfect representative of people who make CRP a success.  Thanks to Ricky and farmers like him, we all have a better place to live.

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Dynamic Duo Featured at First Work Force Engagement Open House


FSA Administrator Val Dolcini attended the first Workforce Engagement Open House to learn more about the employees in the Graphic Section. Dolcini thanked Connelly for her commitment to assisting numerous FSA departments with their graphic design needs.

by Latawnya Dia, FSA Public Affairs Specialist

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Workforce Engagement (WE) team held the first employee “In-Reach” Open House on May 19, to further employee engagement by showcasing the talent and skill of FSA’s Graphic Section – Janet Connelly and Julie Polt, visual information specialists.

The Open House Initiative is the first of many upcoming internal open houses where employees will take a closer look at the work performed by FSA employees and departments. The concept is simple — to learn more about our colleagues in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. Continue reading

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FSA Administrator Val Dolcini Listens to Customers and Employees on Travels

Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini continued his active engagement with customers and FSA employees during recent trips to several northeastern states.  In a trip to New York to help the state FFA kick-off its 98th annual convention on the campus of Morrisville State College, he toured the College of Agriculture and Technology, and said he came away with a renewed appreciation for the nation’s agricultural institutions of higher learning.

While in the state, Dolcini visited the Onondaga FSA county office in Lafayette. He spoke to local staff and discussed the visions and expectations for FSA as part of his Workforce Engagement initiative.

“It’s important that I meet with our employees on ‘their turf’,” said Dolcini.  “The candid discussions help me tweak our programs and policies to better meet the needs of our customers and employees.”

Following the local office visit, Dolcini met organic dairy producer Tom Trinder at his operation. Trinder is enrolled in FSA’s Margin Protection Program (MPP), Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC)/Price Loss Coverage (PLC), Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

“Mr. Trinder’s participation in multiple FSA programs is proof that, regardless of the agricultural enterprise, FSA has a program that will meet the producer’s needs – from income support to conservation to disaster assistance and credit, we offer something for everyone,” said Dolcini.

Day two in New York began at the Oneida FSA county office in Marcy followed by an introduction to Jessica Hula-Fredericks, an FSA farm loan borrower. Hula-Fredericks started her extremely successful dairy operation when she applied for an FSA youth loan in 2009.  Since then, she has advanced to FSA’s guaranteed loan program and is expanding. Hula-Fredericks’ operation has grown from 100 to her current 750-cow herd. The farm normally employs nine people and can have to up to 14 employees during the crop season.

“Hula-Fredrick’s success is impressive to say the least, but I’m proud to say that her story of starting, expanding and enhancing her agriculture enterprise is one that can be a reality for many young entrepreneurs nationwide with assistance from FSA credit programs,” said Dolcini.

Dolcini’s day in New York ended with a trip to the FSA Schoharie county office. Employees gave Dolcini a farm tour to show him how FSA’s Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) helped fund recovery projects that provided the landowner with disaster assistance following Hurricane Irene in 2011.  He also saw a sixth-generation vegetable farm and met with New York’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Richard Ball, capping his brief but eventful visit to the Empire State.

Part Two of the Administrator’s whirlwind tour of the northeast included a one-day, four-state, four-FSA county office, 500-mile, pre-Memorial day blitz to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.  Dolcini started his tour to engage with employees and learn about their work projects early in the morning at Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He drove to the Cumberland County FSA Service Center in New Jersey for his second session with office staff, moved on to Dover, Delaware, to meet the Kent County office staff, and ended his day in Denton, Maryland, visiting with the FSA team in Caroline County.

“These busy county offices, and over 2100 others in each of the 50 states, are preparing for an intense summer workload as they take acreage reports, process program enrollments, host county committee meetings, provide disaster assistance and the list goes on,” said Dolcini.  “Throughout my travels, the commitment made by local FSA staff to their producers and to one another was clearly evident.”

As travel needs cause Administrator Val Dolcini to appear in various locations throughout the widespread agricultural landscape, he won’t be far away from another FSA Service Center.  And if he’s nearby, don’t be surprised when he stops in for an engaging conversation with customers and employees alike. For him, it’s all in a day’s work at the Farm Service Agency!

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Indiana Farm Becomes Conservation Showcase

CRP is 30-1 - Indiana Mulford Robert_Ellen

Dr. Robert and Ellen Mulford have enrolled 238 acres into six different CRP practices that focused on establishing grassed waterways, windbreaks and creating various wildlife habitats by planting trees and creating wetlands.


Farming is a business, and like all businesses, over time a change in philosophies, services, products or branding may be needed to set a new direction for success.

Five years ago, Dr. Robert and Ellen Mulford began a journey towards a total transformation of their 400-acre farm in Ripley County in Southeastern Indiana.

For many years this was a typical Indiana farm with a corn and soybean rotation.

“We worked with some excellent farmers on a crop-share basis, but we knew it was time to change focus to the natural goal that we wanted the farm to become,” said Dr. Mulford, a physician.  “The profits were reasonable and the relationship between economic gain and natural preservation seemed compatible, but different avenues were needed to preserve the farm.”

The transformation started with a new name, Capability Farm.

Next the Mulfords began working with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff to map out practices available through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that suited their property. The Mulfords have also worked closely with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service private lands biologists.

CRP is among the largest private lands program for conservation used to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality and provide wildlife habitat. CRP is a voluntary program that allows eligible landowners to receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of the10 to 15 year contract.

The Mulfords started by using rye as a cover crop and enrolled 238 acres into six different CRP practices that focused on establishing grassed waterways, windbreaks and creating various wildlife habitats by planting trees and creating wetlands.

In five short years, the Mulfords have totally changed the landscape of the farm.

“With the establishment of native grasses, forbs and the creation of shallow water areas for wildlife, the former cropland is once again alive with the sounds of grassland birds such as meadowlarks, Bobwhite Quail and Sedge Wren,” said Dr. Mulford.  “Northern harriers swoop gracefully over the fields and the wetlands harbor life of every type; insects are abuzz, toads, and even gray tree frogs, unheard for years, suddenly line the banks of the wetlands. The larger wetland habitats have attracted water fowl never before seen on the farm such as sand hill cranes, sandpipers, glossy ibis, and rails.  I believe approximately 200 bird species have been seen on the farm, 40 of these unseen until the recent restoration.”

The Mulfords have hosted numerous events on the farm including educational workshops, conservation field days, school groups, and birding groups.

“It is rewarding to get a high five and watch a farm visitor jump up and down after seeing a grasshopper sparrow and a Henslow’s sparrow in the same day,” said Dr. Mulford.

According to South Ripley Elementary School teachers, Capability Farm provided a unique learning experience for their students that allowed them to be investigators and scientists, while connecting classroom curriculum to their real-life experiences exploring the farm.

In the future, the Mulfords plan to continue to improve and showcase Capability Farm as a commitment to nature and hope to share it in as many ways as possible.

Since being established on December 23, 1985, the CRP program has helped prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding and protected more than 170,000 stream miles with riparian and grass buffers, more than 100,000 acres of bottomland hardwood trees, nearly 300,000 acres of flood-plain wetlands and 250,000 acres each for duck nesting habitat and upland bird habitat.

To learn more about Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program please visit To find your local USDA Service Center please visit

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Unsung Hero Helps Community Survive Devastating Disaster

Meade County SD staff - Jim Neill Unsung HeroPictured from left to right:  Jim Neill (CED), Dixie Oedekoven (PT), Julie Bronemann (PT), Mary Kay Lemmel (PT), Holly Howie (PT), Tacy Snyder (FLO), Lois Kirkegaard (PT), Ron Adam (FLM)

Sturgis, S.D. — According to Jim Neill, Meade County Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director, everyone in the county office had “dreams about livestock applications” following Winter Storm Atlas. The sudden 2013 blizzard dropped up to three feet of snow in parts of South Dakota.

It caught ranchers off guard. Their cattle roamed prairieland, rummaging sparse forage for food after the harsh drought of 2012. The storm trapped the livestock in the cold, covered their food and caused 20,000 head to succumb in Meade County alone. Throughout South Dakota, 45,000 head of cattle died. It was a shocking disaster.

Jim Neill is one who stepped up. His entire team in the Meade County FSA office did.

“The staff did a great job,” Neill said. He explained that his program technicians are friends and neighbors to the hundreds of ranchers who suffered catastrophic losses. They worked tirelessly to help their county producers, he said.

Neill also credits his county committee for their compassionate work. They met 8-10 hours each week following the disaster to go through dozens of applications streaming into his office.

But temporary program technician Holly Howie saw in Neill an unsung hero as he led the effort. “He is a very hard worker, very involved with the community,” Howie said. “Jim works above and beyond doing what it takes to help the producers.”

Howie said she felt like Jim Neill would be “a great candidate” for the government’s Unsung Hero competition. She nominated her boss and he was selected.

Howie and Neill share a passion. They love family. Howie, 30, is the mother of three youngsters. She and her husband had only recently moved the family to the Sturgis area from another part of the state where she had been a full-time FSA program technician. Neill is the father of five – two boys and three girls. They had moved to Sturgis in 2010.

“FSA is a great place to work,” Howie said. “Very family friendly.”

It’s hard to imagine that Neill has much time to spend with his five children. One weekend a month he devotes to his National Guard duties.  Two weeks a year he spends training with his guard unit, a natural activity for the former military leader. But he does find time for his kids, helping them with baseball and softball.

There was pride in his voice. A good dad, you can tell.

A good FSA employee, too. He said he was humbled by a phone call he received from FSA Deputy Administrator for Field Operations Greg Diephouse, who offered his congratulations for Neill’s selection.

Neill said accepting praise is not one of his stronger suits. Still, he said, “It was nice to have someone say thanks. It was a nice honor.”

Praise came from FSA Administrator Val Dolcini, too: “Jim represents the kind of ‘can do’ spirit that exemplifies the employees of FSA. I’m proud to call him my colleague.”

So, why all the fuss over Jim Neill and the Meade County staff? Because 500 producers in Meade County, South Dakota, suffered devastating losses eye-witnessed by USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse. The disaster happened at a time when government programs were shut down as a result of an expired farm bill.

Jim Neill and his staff supported efforts to raise funds within the community. They found temporary solutions until the 2014 Farm Bill came up with relief. That was more than a year after the losses.  Since then, $32 million in disaster relief payments have reached the producers in South Dakota, in good part thanks to the work of Neill and his staff.

Individuals with unsung natural leadership capabilities, capabilities exemplified by Jim Neill, are the ones who generate heroic results. Something we see often at FSA.

So, in honor of all of FSA’s unsung heroes, we say congratulations to Jim Neill. For more information on USDA’s 12 Unsung Heroes, visit

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