NRCS Incentives Could Boost IPM Adoption
Workshops Help NRCS to Help Growers
Since 2007, nearly 400 northeastern growers and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff have attended on-farm workshops aimed at improving growers’ ability to earn financial incentives for managing pests in ways that protect the environment. IPM specialists, NRCS personnel, and growers have become partners in educating each other through hands-on training in Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, with support from the Northeastern IPM Center’s Vegetable Working Group and a CSREES grant entitled “Building Bridges between IPM and NRCS.”
Through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), NRCS offers financial help to growers whose farming practices protect water, air, and soil quality. Growers may now qualify for these incentives if they use IPM tactics like crop rotation, pest scouting, trap crops, and other effective, economical pest management practices that minimize environmental risks.
Farmers who attended a workshop in Maine last July appreciated the interactive, informal nature of the event, and a majority reported that they would apply for EQIP funds as a result of what they had learned.
“We need more of these types of programs for small growers to pass the knowledge around,” explained one grower. Workshop leaders hope to offer more training like this in the future, focusing on various crops.
The Farm Is the Classroom
Because NRCS staff work with growers who seek incentives, they play a crucial role in explaining the connections between conservation and integrated pest management. Until recently, NRCS and IPM programs seldom interacted, leaving many unaware that growers might simultaneously benefit from the strengths of both these USDA-funded groups.
“Those NRCS folks who have attended the workshops now see Extension IPM specialists as an important resource,” says Ruth Hazzard, who has led workshops in Massachusetts. “These staff members represent the future of NRCS.”
“Every occasion like this builds on my knowledge base,” said an NRCS staff member from Massachusetts. Another participant reported gaining “an improved ability to discuss IPM with growers as well as greater confidence in tackling pest management plans.”
One IPM tour took NRCS professionals to vegetable and grain farms in Delaware and Maryland, where they learned pest sampling techniques, control options, and decision-making for vegetables and tree fruits. While the programs include handouts such as fact sheets and pest identification guides, participants are most enthusiastic about the hands-on, practical aspects of the workshops.
The Northeastern IPM Center has also worked with several states to develop web-based information that will help growers earn financial assistance from NRCS for using IPM practices.