CARRIE LINDIG: State Conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service
PRIORITIES: PROTECTING FARMLAND, WATER AND SOIL
“We’ve lost so much to development and subdivisions.”
In 2002, New Jersey had more than 805,000 acres of farmland. By 2012, the date of the last Census of Agriculture, that number dropped to 715,047, a loss of 11.2%.
With support from Farm Bill Title II, The Natural Resources Conservation Service works to protect and preserve farmland, wetlands and natural resources nationwide. Carrie Lindig, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which provides farmers with technical and financial assistance related to invest in conservation, expects funding to remain consistent in 2018, while noting some changes in recent years.
The Farm Bill’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program supports landowners who seek permanent protected status of their wetlands or farms, the latter through the Agricultural Land Easement program. That’s of great importance in a densely populated state like New Jersey. “We’ve lost so much to development and subdivisions,” Lindig says.
Easements reward farmers and other landowners who use their property to counter development pressure. That’s a sacrifice— especially in a state like New Jersey, which has some of the highest land values in the country—but it comes with rewards. “It helps the farmers financially. They receive compensation for the lack of ability to sell the land to a developer or do anything else with it, but then that gives them some financial resources for their operation.”
Lindig notes that easement funding has dipped in recent years. “In the 2014 Farm Bill, they reduced the amount of money that was allotted toward the easement programs, and it is no longer our biggest conservation program,” she says. “Last year we received about $3.5 million for easements. In years past, it was as high as $5 to $9 million.”
Beyond keeping farmlands and wetlands intact, the Farm Bill increasingly supports investments that mitigate farms’ effects on the environment. “Conservation started being put into the Farm Bill in the mid-‘80s,” Lindig says. “Since that time, Congress has kept adding more and more opportunities for conservation on private agricultural land.”
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, supported through $6.7 million in federal funding last year, incentivizes eco-minded investments that honor the interrelationship between healthy farms, productive soil and clean waterways.
“If you are willing to try something new that will benefit your land water, or you’re willing to install facilities to help you manage your animal manure so that it doesn’t get into the water, we’ll pay for most of it,” Lindig says. This could include installing efficient irrigation systems that reduce water use; investing in no-till farming, which protects the soil from erosion; or planting multispecies cover crops that regenerate the soil and reduce the need for fertilizers. It also encourages improvements to keep animal waste out of our waterways.
“We try to focus on making sure farmers can make sure that they’re not impacting streams and rivers that are leaving their properties,” Lindig says. “It’s a lot to ask a farmer: ‘OK, you’re not only growing our food for us to eat, but I also expect you to do all of these things so you don’t impact people around you.’ It’s a good investment for our country to help farmers, because we want them to keep producing, but we also want to protect others around us who might be impacted by the agriculture production process.”
Lindig, who is optimistic that these funding streams will remain intact in this year’s bill, encourages growers to contact one of the six Conservation Service offices in the state—and notes that environmental quality grants have also benefitted urban farmers. “We’re always open and willing to work with anybody, especially the folks we haven’t worked with in the past.”