GRACE Program uses oil, gas funds to support farmers

The Greene County Conservation Office is offering a cost share program for the fourth consecutive year. The board of directors are accepting applications for what is called the GRACE Program until Aug. 31.

The GRACE Program, which stands for Greene County’s Reinvestment in Agriculture: Cost- Share Enhancement, is offering reimbursement to farmers by using the money the county receives from the oil and gas industries through Act 13, a law that puts a fee on all unconventional wells drilled in Pennsylvania.

“Our goal is to reinvest [the money] in landowners,” Ben Schweiger, conservation technician from the conservation district, said.

The money is invested through good conservation farming practices. If the applications are approved, reimbursements will be issued for farming implements like lime and fertilizer, spring developments and interior fencing.

The GRACE Program was designed to help improve soil and water conservation practices to improve soil health in pastures and woodland.

“Part of the things we reimburse, such as lime and fertilizer, in reinvesting in their farms soils, trying to make it healthier and more fertile,” Schweiger said.

The program can also help with pasture divisions and pasture management through reimbursing the installation cost of interior fences. Farmers will receive a better yield and a better spread of nutrients over the farm as compared to only having one large pasture.

“This is one of our biggest intentions: to increase soil health on farms in Greene County,” Schweiger said.

The program is also intended to conserve water and help improve the health of streams that run through pastures.

“For the interior fencing, keeping the animals maybe away from streams and out of the water keeps the water healthier for not only humans, but also the animals themselves. You want to try to keep them out of the water if you can,” Sara Hlatky, conservation technician from the conservation district, said.

Cost-share is also being offered for spring developments.

“The incentive is to try to get farmers to install these spring developments to water their livestock through this rather than their livestock being in the creek with the intention of keeping the animals out of the streams and ponds,” Schweiger said.

As of now, there are no laws in Pennsylvania that require farmers to fence livestock out of streams. Greene County hopes that by offering reimbursement, farmers will begin to use tools like fencing and springs to keep animals out of the water.

“[A law] is definitely a possibility in the future, so if the farmers are hitting that now, the better off they’ll be in the future if that law does come into play,” Schweiger said.

By increasing the soil and water health, farmers are increasing the probability of a better harvest, which is important if the farmers are making income off their harvest. It could also be important if the farmers are using the harvested food to feed livestock.

After applying for the program, the farm will be visited to make sure the reimbursement money will be used correctly. Depending on the practices the landowner wants to implement for example, soil samples will be taken on this visit.

“There’s been great feedback. Each year there’s an increase in participants that are applying and are in the programs with approved contracts,” Hlatky said.