The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has a program that helped us be more efficient and safer farmers with conservation vouchers. It’s called the Healthy Streams Farm Stewardship program. It awards $3,000 worth of conservation vouchers per acre of riparian forest buffer up to $20,000. In addition, the program allows $1,000 per acre toward maintenance of the buffers.
Note: For a list of organizations offering conservation vouchers scroll to the bottom of this post. All photos by R. Whitescarver.
We established nine acres of riparian buffer when we fenced our cows out of the streams on the farm in 2020 and then planted 3,000 trees in the buffer in December of 2021. These projects, along with the construction of six livestock watering stations, were completed with funds and technical assistance from the Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District. There has never been a better time to fence cattle out of streams.
We used the conservation voucher funds to reimburse us for farm improvements or upgrades to conservation practices. Jenny McGarvey, the capacity building initiative director for the alliance, was our contact. We simply talked to her about what we wanted to do, and she gave us the green light to proceed with our improvements.
We used the conservation vouchers to upgrade two of our conservation practices, build new cattle working pens, and put up new fences. When we completed one of the projects, we paid for it and then submitted the paid invoice to Jenny, and the alliance reimbursed us for the costs.
Guardrail Around Watering Corrals–Our First Use of Conservation Vouchers
The first conservation practice upgrade was to install guardrail around five livestock watering corrals. Our watering corrals are basically squares with 40-foot sides. A gate on each side opens to a separate pasture. This greatly enhances our ability to rotate our pastures. The headwaters program would reimburse us for board fence around the corrals, but we wanted something more substantial that was stronger and longer lasting, so Jenny’s program, with conservation vouchers, paid for the difference to install used guardrails from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Taller Tree Shelters
The second conservation practice we wanted to upgrade was to use five-foot vented tree shelters for our trees instead of four-foot nonvented shelters. Both sizes deter deer from eating the trees, but our trees are maturing well and need taller shelters with vents if they’re to thrive.
Safer Cattle Working Pens
When we bought the farm, it had old, dilapidated cattle working pens that were beyond repair and unsafe to use. Conservation vouchers gave us the funds to build a new set using a “Bud Box” and a new head catch with a palp cage and slide gate. This made working cattle less stressful for the cows and much easier and safer for us.
And finally, we needed new fencing. We have a 15-acre hayfield along a state highway that was not fenced. That wouldn’t be a problem if we were only farming hay, but we prefer to graze our hayfields instead of making a second cutting. The remaining conservation voucher funds helped pay to install a new fence along the highway and to replace an old fence along a property line.
Funding for Buffer Maintenance
In addition to the farm improvement vouchers, the alliance provided funds for maintaining our newly planted riparian forest buffers. The first two years after planting bare-root seedlings are the most critical. Controlling invasive weeds, maintaining tree shelters, and suppressing vole habitat are vital to tree seedling vigor and survival.
The alliance funds reimbursed us for mowing, for hiring contractors to apply herbicide around each tree shelter, and for replacing broken tree shelter stakes.
More Funding Available
Conservation vouchers from the Healthy Streams Farm Stewardship program made Whiskey Creek Angus more efficient and safer. That, of course, leads to a more profitable business. There are other programs like this that can help farmers improve their operations and maintain healthier riparian buffers. Contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District or the organizations below to find out more.
If your organization offers vouchers and are not listed here, contact me and I will gladly add you to the list.