September 18, 2011

Help available for flooded farmers

Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

---- — Following the recent flooding and damage from Hurricane Irene, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo established the Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund (ACRF).

The fund's first allocation of $5 million, the conservation component, will provide funding for farmers to restore farmland damaged by Irene and prevent further damage in the future. New York State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine has enlisted local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to begin assessing damage in agricultural disaster areas and to begin identifying projects to restore farms and farmland.

Established in 1949, the Clinton County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been a small but important local agency working for farmers, land owners and local municipalities. Responsible for promoting conservation, the district is authorized under state law as the local natural resource management entity.

The Clinton County SWCD is overseen by a Board of Directors made up of local farmers and two members of the County Legislature. While the district is funded locally by the county, conservation projects initiated by the district bring in outside funding that far outweighs the local cost.

And by addressing natural-resource needs locally, the district has the flexibility to meet needs quickly.

District Manager Steve Mahoney and Technician Nathaniel Grue have recently been busy assisting farmers who have suffered damage from the storm and subsequent flooding. Many farm ditches, culverts, drainage systems and stream banks were destroyed or compromised by the excess water. The ACRF's Conservation Funding will assist in the repair of damage that, if left untreated, would adversely affect the state's natural resources, drinking water supplies or cause further erosion and damage to the farm's production capacity.

Eligible conservation practices provided for in the ACRF include erosion-control practices, stream bank stabilization, critical area protection and repairs to manure storage systems. Farmers who suffered damage have been advised to contact the local Soil and Water Conservation District for a site visit. While actual crop damage is not covered, crop-storage infrastructure and repairs of damage to the cropland may qualify.

Another valuable conservation resource available from the local district is a new 800-gallon Easy Lawn Hydro-seeder. Hydro-seeding involves mixing and spraying out a slurry of seed, water, fertilizer and cellulose mulch to create a quick and effective vegetative cover on bare ground. For a reasonable fee, farmers and local road departments can rent the hydro-seeder to seed road sides, drainage ditches, manure-storage berms and other areas sensitive to erosion. The unit is able to seed about a quarter acre with one tank of slurry.

The district also continues to perform their traditional role as the local natural resources agency; advising farmers, towns and others on issues related to soils, wetlands, ditches and stream bank stabilization. Clinton County's SWCD has been especially active and sought after for technical assistance related to the planning, design and surveying of subsurface drainage systems for agricultural fields.

With appropriate design, subsurface drainage or "tile" can improve crop yields while at the same time reducing surface water runoff, erosion, compaction and damage to the soil structure.

The Agricultural Environmental Management program is another program offered by all districts in the state. This voluntary, incentive-based program encourages farmers to adopt practices that address the water quality concerns of agricultural activities.

By documenting practices and developing plans, the program helps manage manure and fertilizer nutrients, protect drinking water and promote farmland in the community. By linking local farmers with sources of cost-share funds, the AEM program encourages the adoption of environmentally sound practices that help our whole community.

For more information about the Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund Conservation Assessment and Application, utilizing the district Hydro-seeder, the AEM program or other technical assistance available from your local SWCD, contact the Clinton County office at 561-4616, Ext. 3, or in Essex County, 962-8225.

Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22,

Plattsburgh, 561-7450.