Masters talks water, Tripp outlines FSA programs
By Jay Stone
Masters outlines water conservation projects
Georgia Water Planning & Policy Center (GWPPC) Director Mark Masters lauded Georgia farmers for their water conservation efforts, outlined the Georgia Flow Incentive Trust (GaFIT) and the GWPPC’s deep well project funded through a $50 million grant funded by the American Rescue Plan Act awarded to the GWPPC by Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia's Water & Sewer Infrastructure Committee.
“I’m pretty excited to give y’all a presentation that I really would have liked to have given 15 years ago, but I get to give it today,” Masters said. “I want you to know that Georgia farmers continue to demonstrate outstanding stewardship of water.”
As evidence, Masters cited data gained from extensive extensive field mapping and water-metering across the state, years of peer-reviewed research and Georgia’s successful defense against a water lawsuit filed by the state of Florida in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Moving forward, Masters noted the need to maintain adequate streamflow to support habitat for endangered species in the region during extreme drought events. To that end, the GWPPC held its first auction under the GaFIT program. As part of this large-scale research project, farmers in the Ichawanochaway Creek Basin were able to bid for contracts to voluntarily limit irrigation on their farmland in 2022 during an online auction held in March.
Farmers submitting successful bids then entered into a contract to suspend irrigation in exchange for a per-acre payment if stream flows fell below 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the gage near Milford, Georgia. The Ichawanochaway Basin was chosen for the experiment because of its combination of water sources used for irrigation – surface water, Floridan aquifer groundwater and other deeper aquifers.
As of Aug. 11, Masters said the water flows haven’t fallen low enough to trigger payments, though with the uncertainty of the weather, it remains possible. Another auction is being planned for 2023.
Masters also updated the group on a GWPPC project that will provide cost-share to farmers in the Lower Flint River Basin to install deep aquifer wells to replace their use of surface water for irrigation during droughts. The project will support installation of approximately 240 wells over the next 4-5 years. In addition, funding to provide additional groundwater monitoring, modeling and other technical and policy work necessary to support development of a Habitat Conservation Plan is also included.
“The most certainty we can get for producers, farmers in the lower Flint in terms of endangered species comes in the form of a habitat conservation plan,” Masters said. “All the good work accomplished over the last 20 years has put us in a position to do just that. We have the opportunity to develop policy that gives our farmers certainty of access to the generally abundant water resources in South Georgia while making sure our natural systems are protected during drought.”
Tripp: FSA is about much more than loans
Georgia Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Arthur Tripp outlined the agency’s programs and encouraged Georgia farmers to participate. The FSA has two primary functions – providing disaster assistance and offering access to capital for farmers.
The agency provides a variety of loans, including farm ownership loans, operating loans, emergency loans, conservation loans, land contract guarantees and more.
FSA administers the USDA’s disaster assistance programs, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP), and the Emergency Relief Program (ERP), the ongoing version of the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program-Pluss (WHIP+).
Under CFAP and other COVID-related programs, FSA provided $476 million to Georgia producers, Tripp said.
“We still had producers who did not know about it. That sort of thing just shouldn’t happen,” he said, noting that FSA staff is exploring ways to ensure producers know what federal programs are available to them.
Tripp asked farmers to help improve data available through the U.S. Drought Monitor by self-reporting conditions on their farms. To self-report, click here https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/850f937a1956425dab70cf3a79c64e8b .
Tripp discussed FSA’s efforts to advance agriculture through Farm-to-School grants, which provided between $50,000 and $500,000 to schools looking to establish or expand existing agricultural programs. FSA also offers up to $5,000 to help students purchase animals to enter in livestock shows.
“We have got to make sure that our young people have the opportunity to touch and taste and feel agriculture,” Tripp said. “It’s important. It’s the only way I feel that we will have the next generation of folks getting involved.”
For details on all of FSA’s programs, visit https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/index.