By Alton Perry, SFLRP Program Manager
We’re all familiar with the saying “money doesn’t grow on trees,” but for forest landowners, one could argue that it’s coming pretty darn close these days.
I say that because there currently are six – yes, six! – financial assistance programs that a forest landowner in the region can access. This presents woodland owners with a tremendous opportunity that I hope they will take advantage of to convert property that many often view as a burden into a significant asset. By doing so, they can strengthen their families’ financial positions for generations to come, and they can improve the health of their forests and the habitats within them.
These programs offer the region’s woodland owners a great opportunity to increase the health and asset wealth of property that they would like to keep in their family.
Here are the financial assistance opportunities available at this time:
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality. The program offers financial and technical assistance to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health and improved wildlife habitat. Eligible land includes cropland, pastureland and non-industrial private forestland. In North Carolina, EQIP will pay approximately 75 percent of the cost to implement conservation practices for eligible producers, and up to 90 percent of the cost for historically underserved farmers, beginning and limited resource, American Indian tribes and veterans. To apply, contact your local county Natural Resources Conservation Service Center.
- The NC Forest Service Stewardship Incentive Program. This is a federally funded, NCFS administered program to provide natural resource management, education and on-the-ground technical assistance. The program helps landowners meet their woodland objectives in environmentally sensitive and ecologically sound ways. A new supplemental grant provides funding to help landowners develop Forest Stewardship and Tree Farm Plans in 72 counties eligible for relief from hurricanes Michael and Florence; in our immediate project area, landowners in only two counties – Bertie and Halifax – are eligible. Landowners will be paid a flat rate depending upon the acreage of the plan. Approximately $100,000 is available for plan development, but it’s important to note that funding is time-limited and will expire on Sept. 31, 2021. Note as well that a natural resource professional from the private sector must prepare the plan; the Forest Service cannot do so. Contact your local Forest Service County Office for more information.
- The AgPrime Grant available through the University of Mount Olive (UMO), the private university situated 115 miles south of Ahoskie. This assistance opportunity was announced only a few weeks ago by the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at UMO. AgPrime is a cost-share program designed to offer innovative agricultural producers or agribusinesses assistance in implementing farm diversification and expansion strategies that increase economic stability and sustainability. Each qualified AgPrime recipient can receive up to $10,000 cost-share dollars with a 10 percent match required. Each project will be funded based on its potential to positively benefit the economic development of the community, agricultural diversification, farm profitability, and skill and resource development for current and future farmers, according to the university. For more information, contact Sandy Maddox, dean of UMO’s School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, at SMaddox@umo.edu or 919-658-7682.
- The Forest Stewards Guild and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Program. The Guild and its partners are focused on the maintenance and protection of hardwood forests on public and private lands. The Guild is seeking private forestland owners in the coastal Carolinas who want to receive funding assistance to develop a management plan for their bottomland hardwood forests. In the Southeastern United States, these forests “have been in decline due to incompatible management practices, altered hydrology and land conversion,” the Guild states. “Over vision is for bottomland hardwood forests in North and South Carolina to be managed used responsible forestry so as to benefit wildlife species and freshwater systems, and to sustain the integrity of forest ecosystems and the human communities that depend upon them.” For more information on this program, contact Jen Chandler at email@example.com or 828-772-7992.
- The Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project (SFLRP). The project has cost-share funding available on a first-come, first-served basis to develop forest management plans, help with estate planning and help with reforestation activity. The SFLRP is offering up to $1,000 per landowner to aid in forest management plan development. This assistance is doubly valuable because maintaining a detailed forest management plan is a requirement for landowners applying for financial assistance to implement forestry practices or enter into the NC Tree Farm Program. To be eligible for this SFLRP funding, a landowner must: own at least one contiguous, wooded eight-acre property in Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton or Perquimans counties; be or become a Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project participant; use awarded funds to pay the North Carolina Forest Service or a private consulting forester to develop a forest management plan and the enrollment fee for forest certification into the NC Tree Farm Program
- The NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program. This is the largest conservation program in the United States, according to NRCS. It offers opportunities to expand on existing conservation efforts through a variety of activities and practices tailored to one’s land. Stewardship contracts are for five years, with the opportunity to compete for a renewal if you’ve successfully fulfilled the initial contract.
At the risk of being repetitive, individually and collectively these programs offer the region’s woodland owners a great opportunity to increase the health and asset wealth of property that they would like to keep in their family. Throughout my decades-long career in forestry, I’ve witnessed and worked with landowners struggling to hold on to property that has been in their family for generations but has proven to be a headache and financial burden. The Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project exists to help forest landowners overcome these challenges. Contact our team at 252-539-4614 to learn more about these assistance opportunities and the SFLRP program.