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Honey bees

Sam Wustner of the Wustner Brothers Honey fills his beehive smoker with pine cones and needles for fuel as he prepares to check on his hives in the Miller Creek area. Smoke is a commonly used method to preoccupy honey bees, but too much is harmful for the insects, and this year's wildfire season was particularly rough on the Wustner Brothers' hives.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering additional funding through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to target specific resource concerns in Montana in 2018: on-farm energy, honey bee pollinators, organic, high tunnel systems, Sage Grouse Initiative invasive conifer removal, Sage Grouse Initiative cropland seeding, and wildfire recovery.

While NRCS accepts EQIP applications on a continuous basis, NRCS has set a deadline of Jan. 19, 2018, to apply for 2018 initiatives funding. Below is an overview of each initiative:

National On-Farm Energy Initiative (NOFEI): NOFEI has two components. In the first component, agricultural producers work with an NRCS-approved Technical Service Provider to develop Agricultural Energy Management Plans or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. In the second component, NRCS may also provide assistance to implement various recommended measures identified in the energy audit through the use of conservation practice standards offered through this initiative.

Honey Bee Pollinators: NRCS will work with agricultural producers to combat future declines by helping them to implement conservation practices that provide forage for honey bees while enhancing habitat for other pollinators and wildlife.

National Organic Initiative (NOI): NRCS will assist producers with installation of conservation practices on agricultural operations related to organic production. Producers currently certified as organic, transitioning to organic, or National Organic Program exempt will have access to a broad set of conservation practices to assist in treating their resource concerns while fulfilling many of the requirements in an Organic System Plan.

High Tunnel Systems: NRCS helps producers implement high tunnels that extend growing seasons for high-value crops in an environmentally safe manner. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality and fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment.

Sage Grouse Initiative Invasive Conifer Removal: Conifer encroachment into sagebrush rangelands affects the productivity of grazing lands and can be detrimental for sage grouse and other species that depend on sagebush-steppe habitat. The most cost-effective approach for conifer treatment is to target early encroachment stands, where small trees can be completely removed and the existing sagebrush community sustained. By targeting early stages of encroachment in intact sagebrush landscapes, habitat for wildlife can be improved.

Sage Grouse Initiative Cropland Seeding: Loss and fragmentation of sage grouse habitat is the primary threat to sage grouse. Through this initiative, landowners can work with NRCS to seed cropland in sage grouse habitat back to perennial species to improve the connectivity for not only sage grouse, but the many other species that depend on large, intact landscapes.

Wildfire Recovery: NRCS is offering assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by wildfires in 2017 with livestock grazing deferment, damaged fence and post removal, livestock fencing, water facility development, critical area plantings, and cover crops.

EQIP offers financial and technical assistance to eligible participants to install or implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land. Conservation practices must be implemented to NRCS standards and specifications. In Montana, socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers will receive a higher payment rate for eligible conservation practices applied.

Applicants that operate as an entity are required to have a DUNs number and have that number registered with SAM.gov prior to submitting their application for consideration.

For more information about EQIP, or other programs offered by NRCS, please contact your local USDA Service Center or visit www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov

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