There are several federal cost share programs established in the federal Farm Bill that provides financial assistance to farmers and forest landowners across the country. These programs are administered by the Farm Service Agency and must be applied for through a competitive process. It is important to note that landowners must be comfortable with the terms within any cost-share or easement agreement.
1. Provide Initial Information: Forestland owners interested in any of the programs should visit their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) first. Landowners should bring a copy of the deed for the land and complete background information (name, address, social security) of any names listed on the deed. In the case of an LLC, the landowner who is designated as the president or leader must make the application, but all of the members listed in the LLC have to provide their respective information. This step will allow the FSA to properly identify the property.
2. Eligibility: The cost-share programs available through Farm Bill are not first-come, first serve programs. A landowner or LLC must first complete paperwork – namely the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) Limitation Form – to see if it is eligible based on the income of the applicant. Those applicants with an average non-farm AGI of more than one million dollars are not eligible. This limitation may be waived it the land has some specific environmental significance. Landowners who are unsure where they might fall in the AGI should take the time to investigate the paperwork with the FSA.
3. Investigate the Programs Available: The FSA and NRCS both administer to cost-share programs to landowners. In many cases, both agencies are located in the same building so it will not be difficult to explore all of the programs that are available. In general, there are programs that address working lands, easements and stewardship.
4. Applications are Ranked: FSA and NRCS personnel will rank applications based on their environmental significance and impact. In general, a plan that creates the most benefits will gain a higher rating. The highest rated projects obtain the top priority spots for funding.
5. Understand the Contract: It is important for landowners to understand that they when they sign up for one of these cost-share programs, they are entering into a contract with the United States Government. Work detailed in the plan must be commenced within 12 months of signing the agreement.
There are more options than ever for forest landowners in this new Farm Bill. The following contact information for NRCS and the Farm Service Agency should be consulted for more information on the individual programs. The NRCS can be reached at 919-873-2100 or www.nc.nrcs.usda.gov and the FSA can be reached at 919-875-4800 or www.fsa.usda.gov/nc.