USDA official tours Lafayette County dairy farm
After more than a year in operation, Heins Family Farm, a dairy near Higginsville, is starting to grab the attention of many in the agricultural community, including some in Washington, D.C.
Ann Mills, Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), toured the dairy last week Tuesday.
NRE is a department in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that works with private landowners to implement and support conservation practices through Natural Resources Conservation Services (NCRS).
Mills said last Tuesday's visit was to see how operations, like the Heins', are benefiting from government-funded incentives programs provided through NCRS.
The purpose was "to see the work that is being done and how NCRS is helping," she said. "I can get a much better perspective and see how the policies are working" by touring different operations.
The recently-constructed Heins Family Farm, owned by Paul Heins of Higginsville, is a large dairy with a capacity for 665 milking cows.
The dairy started production last October and generates approximately 6,000 gallons of milk a day.
The facilities Mills toured last Tuesday are much different than the ones that used to house the dairy.
His older, smaller dairy sat in a watershed that drained into the Higginsville Reservoir. Measures were taken to prevent any animal-waste drainage into the lake. The dairy met all Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requirements for its waste-management solution. Tony Bittiker, NCRS District Conservationist, said, to his knowledge, the dairy never caused any harm to the reservoir. In fact, NCRS worked with Heins at the old facility to create an environmentally-safe system.
When he built the new facility, Heins moved it farther away, atop a hill and out of the watershed. The new facilities are also employing new environmentally-sensitive practices that are creating a "green circle," Heins said.
During construction of their facilities, the Heins' took advantage of the cost-sharing program Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) for its waste-management system. EQIP is an incentives program designed "to help develop conservation plans and implement conservation practices," according to the NCRS Web site.
"That was our emphasis of providing the cost share to him (Heins)," Bittiker said. We "helped him move out of a critical watershed, up to an area which doesn't drain to the lake and also put a facility in here that is environmentally sound."
NCRS, which has a field office in Higginsville, worked with Heins to ensure his waste-management system met certain criteria so he could qualify for EQIP reimbursement. NCRS contracted with Heins and designated certain components within the contract he had to fulfill in order to receive the funding.
Heins was responsible for coordinating the design and construction of the waste-management system. Once finished, the system was inspected by NCRS to ensure it met each component of the contract agreement and awarded a reimbursement.
Bittiker said it varies how much an applicant receives, but NCRS shared 40 percent of Heins' cost for the animal-waste system.
Mills said it's important for her to see "how passionate and dedicated the producers are here in Missouri to producing food for the country and the world, but also taking the risk of working within NCRS to put conservation practices in place that will help them protect their soil, reduce input cost, but also have a better quality in habitat."
Mills asked Heins during the tour about his experience with NCRS.
He said "It's a great program, but it's cumbersome."
He said the system had too much "red tape," and he spent a lot of time doing paperwork. He estimated he spent probably 30 days doing administrative tasks alone. He estimated it took an extra six months to finish the facilities so it would meet requirements of EQIP.
"We need some common sense. This is agriculture," he said. "We want to use the taxpayer's money properly."
"The local staff was great to work with, but the federal government can over regulate," he said.
Mills said we need "to continue to think about how to streamline the experience for the producers so they don't have so much 'red tape' to deal with. That's incredibly important. These programs need to work."
Mills said in order for producers to voluntarily apply for incentive programs like EQIP the system needs to work more efficiently.
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