Skip to main content

environmental quality incentives program

Artisan Cheese Makers Embrace Voluntary Conservation at Award-Winning Vermont Dairy

The story behind Vermont’s Consider Bardwell could be the plot for a great movie. The lead characters are Russell and Angela, two New York City executives who decide in their fifties that they want to buy a farm, raise goats, and be artisan cheesemakers. The setting is a 300-acre dairy farm and cheese operation in West Pawlet, Vermont. And the twist…they had no previous farming experience.

What could have been a comedy is an inspiring story of dedication and perseverance. This is the true tale of an architect and a literary agent who pursue a dream to farm sustainably through a voluntary conservation approach, and create a unique farm-to-plate product. Their partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is helping to ensure the health of the natural resources on their farm.

Mississippi Farmers Expanding Opportunities with Up in Farms

“Not today,” said Mr. Leonard Keyes as he and Dr. John Stanley surveyed the plot of land on Keyes’ farm in Mize, Mississippi. “Too dry.” Stanley stood beside him holding a tray of squash transplants and nodding his head in agreement.

Earlier that morning, Stanley, sourcing manager for Up in Farms Food Hub, had visited the farm of Mr. James Gregory about 30 miles down the road in Florence. He’d brought Gregory some of the same transplants—some nice-looking seedlings from Standing Pine Nursery in Byram. John had stood beside Gregory, too, and surveyed that plot of land. “Not today,” said Gregory. “Too wet!”

Hoop House Grows Healthy Food, Combat Diabetes in a Nevada Food Desert

Squeals of excitement and laughter competed with the sounds of power saws, drills and hammers at the Hungry Valley Child Care Center in Sparks, Nevada, as Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC) teens were handed power tools for the first time in their lives to assist with building a hoop house.

As part of their life skills learning, the teens helped members of the National Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils (NARC&DC) who were attending their national conference in Reno, erect a 14’ x 26’ hoop house, with guidance from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program staff and assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Two Small Growers Form Unusual Partnership

When you meet farmers Gordon Bednarz and Brenda Sullivan, two words come to mind—polar and opposites. But the pair has joined forces in a unique way – sharing land and growing food as partners, without a formal partnership.

And it’s working!

He is the owner of Bednarz Farm in his hometown of Glastonbury. Gordon’s family has been farming there since the 1920s. He farmed his family’s land before and after he graduated from college and throughout his career with the State of Connecticut. Bednarz’s love for the land and dedication to his roots leads him to continue the tradition of old fashioned, New England farming.

NRCS Helps Young Iowa Farmer Plan New Grazing System

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the agency could help him plan a rotational grazing system.

A rotational grazing system—also known as prescribed grazing—divides pastures into four or more small paddocks with fencing. The animals move from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on the availability of forage and the livestock’s nutritional needs.

Collins says he has a lot more grass available than before. “I attribute it to the rotational grazing,” he said. “I like to have plenty of grass. The cows and calves both do, as well.”

Tribal Conservation Partnership Provides Aquaculture Ponds for Walleye

“The Tribe wants to provide a sustainable supply of walleye for tribal and non-tribal fishing in reservation waters,” said Lac du Flambeau Tribe Natural Resources Director Larry Wawronowicz. “Raising the fish larger is necessary now due to shoreline development, increased competition from in aquatic invasives like zebra mussels, and climate change.”

Sustainable conservation and protection of natural resources has always been a goal of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe since inhabiting parts of Wisconsin in 1745. The Tribe acquired the name from its gathering practices of harvesting fish by torchlight at night. Their focus is to protect pristine areas, restore degraded natural and wildlife resources, and help build strong communities.

Missouri Dairyman Benefits From Happy, Healthy Cows

Polk County dairy farmer Nelson Hostetler can think of a ton of reasons to like his new dairy shed and animal waste system. The most obvious reasons are documented in Hostetler’s daily production log. It shows that the 100 cows that formerly resided in a couple of pastures are producing about 2,000 more pounds of milk each day since they were brought in the shed less than a year ago.

“NRCS’ interest is in protecting the quality and healthfulness of the natural resources that everyone needs,” said State Conservationist J.R. Flores. “Situations like Mr. Hostetler’s in which actions taken to protect the environment also improve his operation are great, because everyone benefits.”

Updated USDA Program Enables Farmers and Ranchers to Help Monarch Butterflies

An update to one of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) key conservation programs will enable farmers and ranchers to aid the imperiled monarch butterfly. This year, NRCS updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to include incentives for farmers and ranchers who plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants favored by monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during their annual journey from Mexico to the United States to as far north as Canada. Data show that monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, on which their caterpillars feed.

Protecting Pollinators through Habitat Conservation is Critical to Preserving Food Supply

“They’re in a happy mood today,” Jim Pratt, a local apiarist, said.

At a comfortable 62 degrees, honeybees buzz with a clear objective: collect nectar and pollen, for honey and pollination.

“Pollinators, like honeybees, support food crops,” Pratt said, explaining why for 20 years he’s raised honeybees.

Pratt’s Farm annually produces about 120 pounds of honey per colony. He maintains 100 colonies, collecting honey from them each spring, summer and fall. During the winter, the bees eat stored honey until warmer weather arrives.

Rancher Weathers Drought, Restores Prairie Chicken Habitat at Same Time

By Sandra Murphy, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with ranchers and partners to improve habitat for lesser prairie-chicken through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI). Focusing on privately-owned lands, the initiative covers five western states. About 95 percent of lesser prairie-chicken habitat is located on private lands. Sandra Murphy is communications specialist for LPCI, a partnership led by NRCS. — Justin Fritscher, NRCS

On a late April morning in southwest Kansas, sand bluestem sways over rancher Bill Barby’s head. A medley of other native grasses — little bluestem, sand lovegrass, and prairie sandreed, and more — fill the pasture around him, providing food for his cattle as well as habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, a threatened species.