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Farmers needed to grow USDA conservation efforts

— Officials from the United States Department of Agriculture’s McDonough Field Office need a few good farmers.

The USDA’s local Natural Resources Conservation Service office is calling on area farmers to sign up for three conservation programs designed to make farms more eco-friendly. They are offered through the service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“The Environmental Quality Incentives Program offers farmers, ranchers and forestland managers a variety of options to conserve natural resources while boosting production on their lands,” said USDA State Conservationist James Tillman in a written statement.

“This financial assistance for conservation investment helps improve environmental health and the economy of Georgia rural communities.”

Farmers from across the Southern Crescent have until Feb. 15 to sign up for the programs. The field office serves Clayton, Henry, Butts, Fayette and Spalding counties.

The conservation programs include:

• The “On-Farm Energy Initiative,” which is designed to help farmers find ways to conserve energy on their farms.

• A “Season High Tunnel Initiative,” where farmers can get federal assistance to build tunnels which can help prolong their growing season’s into the late fall and winter months.

• An “Organic Initiative,” where the USDA will help farmers implement practices that can get their farms certified as organic operations by the agency. That certification lets them claim their agricultural products are organically produced, according to the USDA’s website.

• A “Longleaf Pine Initiative,” which can help farmers plant longleaf pine trees and firebreaks on their properties. Twenty-nine threatened and endangered species of animals call the 3.4 million acres of Longleaf Pine forests home, according to the agency’s website. The USDA can also help farmers conduct controlled burning efforts to limit invasive plants, such as kudzu and Japanese honeysuckles, through this program.

Call District Conservationist Shaun Ford at 770-957-5705, ext. 3, or e-mail him at shaun.ford@ga.usda.gov to apply for the conservation programs.