A farm "strike force" for Utah’s poorest counties

The USDA's NRCS dispenses advice and offers grants for water conservation and drought resilience, both important considerations for Utah farms and ranches.

PRICE, Utah – This is a busy time for agriculture in Utah, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to make it easier to get access to loan and grant programs and expert advice. 

This is the first year Utah is part of the USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative, to spur rural growth and opportunity in counties that struggle with high poverty rates. 

For Barry Hamilton, a conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Price, it’s a chance to work with local farmers and ranchers to help them manage their water supplies, grazing, crop planning and more.

“We can always go in there and assist them in putting a practice or a project in,” he says. “But if you do not educate folks on how to maintain and keep those projects going, you may not have as much success.”

The StrikeForce Initiative started as a pilot program three years ago in three states. It’s been successful enough to expand to 16 states, including Utah, as of this spring.

Traci Bruckner, a spokeswoman for the Center for Rural Affairs, says Congress may have extended the Farm Bill but didn’t fund parts of it, so it’s been hard for farmers and ranchers to figure out which programs are still active.

“The basic commodity programs, the basic crop insurance programs, those have not been cut,” she says. “But the programs that really focus on helping beginning farmers and people who are doing things differently and trying to establish high-value niche markets, those programs have been impacted.”

Bruckner says the Conservation Stewardship Program received some funding, but she’s concerned that farmers who might want to apply may be too busy planting to do the paperwork.

Hamilton says plenty of programs still have funding, each tailored to meet a specific need, from preserving wildlife habitat to improving rangeland health. They’ve helped the Navajo Nation install catchment facilities to conserve water and solar wells to water livestock. He says working as partners is the key.

“The StrikeForce itself would not be a success without the leadership of the Navajo Nation government,” Hamilton adds. “The local chapters, as well as the government office out of Window Rock, Arizona.”

See the list of NCRS programs in Utah on the <a href=”http://www.ut.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/” target=”parent”>Utah NCRS website</a>.

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