PENINSULA - Farmers throughout the Peninsula and Pacific County may soon be able to get greenbacks for green farming methods. The rewards range from several hundred dollars per year to more than $35,000 per year.

Farmers in the Willipa Bay watershed should soon be receiving letters inviting them to attend informational meetings and apply for the funds. The funds are part of the Conservation Security Program (CSP), a project of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Last year, farmers in Washington's Moses Coulee watershed became eligible to apply for the funds. More than half of the 83 applicants qualified for some form of payment. The Moses Coulee watershed was one of the 202 areas selected nationwide to participate in the program.

This year 11 additional watersheds in Washington have been added to the program. The other watersheds are the Lower Skagit, Banks Lake, Upper Columbia-Entait, Upper Crab, Rock, Nisqually, Dungeness-Elwha, Colville, Lower Grand Ronde, and Middle Columbia-Hood. There are nearly 30 counties with land in the selected watersheds.

According to NRCS literature, the 2002 Farm Bill authorized the program. The goal of the voluntary program is to provide "financial and technical assistance to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes on Tribal and private working lands."

Gus Hughbanks, NRCS state conservationist, has said that while the USDA has been involved in soil conservation and technical assistance since the 1930s Dust Bowl, this program is the first time agricultural producers are being paid for ongoing conservation efforts.

The program focuses on four types of land use, cropland, pastureland, rangeland, and livestock feeding and handling areas. Eligibility is based on record keeping, fertilizer application methods, soil and/or plant tissue testing, pest control methods, irrigation and water quality management as well as other factors. Farmers can choose to enroll portions of their land or their entire operation.

In addition, farmers can qualify under three different levels of commitment. Under Tier I, the basic level of participation, the farmer signs a five-year plan and addresses at least one resource of concern, such as water quality, for the portion of the land enrolled in the program. Tier II is the second level. The farmer signs a five- to ten-year plan, and addresses at least one resource of concern for their entire operation. Tier III, the highest level, the farmer signs a five to ten year plan and addresses all resources of concern for their entire operation. Financial rewards increase with each level of participation, and first-year participants also receive larger payments.

Those who do not qualify can receive technical assistance from the NRCS to develop conservation plans, as well as receive information about programs that could help them qualify for CSP at a later time.

A self-assessment workbook as well as additional information on CSP is available on the Internet at www.wa.nrcs.usda.gov.

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