Waterville - Gathered at their Annual Summer Meeting at the Waterville Holiday Inn last week (July 22-23), the representatives of Maine's Soil and Water Conservation Districts received welcome news of nearly $1 million in additional USDA funds for assisting Maine farmers with EQIP conservation initiatives.
USDA State Conservationist Joyce Swartzendruber announced that Maine will be one of only 15 states to each receive $937,500 in "performance incentive funds" for conservation on agricultural lands. In Maine, these funds have been especially important in cost-sharing with producers the expenses of constructing or improving manure storage facilities, important to the state's clean water programs.
Swartzendruber noted that Maine was the only Northeast state to receive such funds, which were allocated on the basis of previous program performance and success in achieving USDA national conservation objectives. Maine's previous allocation for the current year had been $8.7 million in EQIP funds.
Steve Hobart, president of the Maine Association of Conservation Districts, praised the Maine employees of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for their successful efforts in "getting conservation on our lands." He also commended Maine's Congressional Delegation for their sustained interest in obtaining maximum funding support for USDA conservation in Maine.
Hobart noted that "while the funds were awarded according to technical criteria, it is always helpful to have our Commissioner of Agriculture Bob Spear and Maine's representatives in Washington in constant contact with USDA, backing up our efforts to show how well Maine is using the funds already received." Hobart noted that the Maine Conservation Districts and Commissioner Spear had been able to make a special presentation to Bruce Knight, Chief of USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service, at the end of 2003.
"These additional funds for clean water in Maine are an ongoing example as to what can be achieved by a grass-roots organization working with our Congressional delegation and federal officials," Hobart concluded.
At the annual meeting in Waterville, the Conservation Districts also organized their priorities for the upcoming Northeast Regional Conference of Conservation Districts, in Burlington Vermont August 1-4.
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