CRESTVIEW — The local U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced four initiatives that can help north Okaloosa County farmers improve their operations.
A list of these initiatives is as follows:
•Help producers install conservation practices on USDA-certified organic operations or those working toward organic certification.
•Help producers install high tunnels — "in layman's terms, a greenhouse," Williams said— designed to extend the growing season, increase productivity, keep plants at a steady temperature and conserve water and energy.
•Help producers conserve energy on their operations.
•Help private landowners improve longleaf pine forest ecosystems' sustainability and profitability.
The initiatives offer "an additional chance ... to improve water and air quality, build healthier soil, improve forest lands, conserve energy, enhance organic operations and achieve other environmental benefits," according to a USDA news release.
While farmers yearlong may apply for most USDA programs' funding assistance, March 15 is the deadline to apply for conservation technical assistance and possible cost-share funding opportunities for the four initiatives, the release stated.
No north county farmers have participated in the high tunnel initiative, though producers in neighboring counties have erected several such tunnels, local district conservationist Darryl Williams said.
"It (the high tunnel) has to be located on cropland. You can't just go locate it anywhere," he said. "That's not to say urban individuals couldn't apply if they have an agriculture exemption on your property.
The high-tunnel initiatives can help boost a crop's longevity, Williams said.
"It helps our farmers, ranchers and gardeners that are growing a crop sustain the growing season into the winter months. It assists those who are certified organic farmers to extend their growing season. Basically, the initiative would help you purchase the materials."
Congress' recent September 2013 extension of the 2008 Farm Bill made the new initiatives possible, the release stated.
For more information on the producer initiatives, conservation assistance or other programs, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture's local Natural Resources Conservation Service office, 938 N. Ferdon Blvd., at 682-3714 or visit www.fl.nrcs.usda.gov.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.