Spokane Conservation District
SPOKANE — The Spokane Conservation District is continuing with signups for its Regional Conservation Partnership Program despite uncertainty over funding for key offerings.
The uncertainty is caused by legislative wrangling over the state capital budget. The state Senate declined to pass a capital budget until Gov. Jay Inslee addresses a state Supreme Court decision that threatens to halt most new rural private wells.
The budget holdup includes $9 million in matching state funds for the RCPP from the Washington Conservation Commission. Other district RCPP projects are also impacted.
Last year, the Spokane district touted the inclusion of “commodity buffers,” paying farmers what they would earn raising a crop to instead establish a buffer along streams.
The budget issues are holding up funding for new buffers, said Walt Edelen, water resources program manager.
There’s enough money to fulfill current obligations, but the district can’t guarantee farmers a payment for new contracts or direct-seed incentives until the Legislature finishes its capital budget.
“We don’t like the fact it hampers our program,” Edelen said.
Deer Park, Wash., farmer Chris Eckhart partnered with RCPP to add buffers near a fish-bearing creek and make the jump to minimum-tillage and no-till farming. He raises wheat, canola, oats and barley on 1,400 acres.
Eckhart said the district shared the cost of those changes. He hopes legislators consider the importance of investing in water quality as they work on the capital budget.
“At the same time, you have to consider the producers and some of the lost revenue,” he said. “That’s some of the most productive ground that people are asking them to take out of production.”
Eckhart plans to apply for more commodity buffers despite the funding uncertainty. He said he is “hopefully optimistic.”
“If they prioritize things correctly, I think things will get worked out,” he said.
Edelen encourages farmers to contact legislators about the importance of the funding.
“We’re hoping this does come through, because there are producers out there that are depending on those funds to help them move forward in conservation efforts and to buy equipment,” he said.
Edelen said the district would like to find long-term funding for the buffers.
“It’s a new program, and people were excited about it,” Edelen said. “We had a very good, successful signup and we have contracts in place, which we are funding this next year. We just can’t take any new signups for it until we get things resolved with this funding.”
Future funding is also in question for the direct-seed incentive, used to bolster direct seed farming practices.
Funding is still available for the other programs under RCPP through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Farmers who signup will go on the list for commodity buffers and direct-seed incentives, Edelen said. When the money becomes available, the district will be able to begin work on those contracts.
The district is accepting applications for RCPP through Oct. 16. The district matched $7.7 million from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for the program.
“Our programs aim to help producers achieve a sustainable operation, both economically and environmentally,” said program manager Charlie Peterson.
Interested farmers should contact Peterson at 509-535-7274, ext. 220 or firstname.lastname@example.org