New Training Opportunities Signal Potential New Job Opportunities at NRCSBy: Amos S. Eno
A flurry of new CRP initiatives have been announced in recent weeks, including one that focuses on grasslands, pollinators, wetlands, and wildlife and another that provides for wildlife cover crops on the most highly erodible lands. FSA and NRCS, the two US Dept. of Agriculture agencies that run the program, realized that with their diminished staffing levels, they would have difficulty meeting the demand for technical assistance that farmers would need to participate in these new programs.
The CRP Readiness Initiative began by taking a look at the bigger picture and asking, how will we have enough capacity to deliver all these new programs? The answer: with the assistance of University of Wisconsin Extension, regional partners and additional trainers like Tim Gieseke. Trainers have been contracted for four regions in the US - the Midwest, the Southeast, the Northeast, and the West - to develop 20 trainings. The core trainings are oriented not toward federal government staff but toward private sector people, NGOs and local government.
No More Horror Stories
“Anyone who has seen the CRP handbook - weighing in at 898 pages - can appreciate the complexity of the program,” Tim avers. “The question is how to distill that down in two days, while ensuring that plans and contracts are 95+% accurate. The answer is, through the supplemental training and mentoring of the training program.
“Listen, I’ve heard horror stories about CRP trainings,” Tim confides, “where they mainly were showing people how to fill out forms. Needless to say, that’s not our approach!”
The way the CRP approval process has worked previously is a farmer would sign a CRP application and give it to an FSA office. The best CRP plans, however, are more likely to result when a farmer works with the CRP program options first, to determine what will work best for his or her land. That may be the first job of the new CRP advisors. Another role will be to assist in preparing a good contract up front by working with the farmer prior to submitting it to FSA.
Translating Jargon and Streamlining in the 21st Century
“A good deal of working with CRP is figuring out how to convert the lingo of ‘CP21’ and ‘CP24’ acronyms and numbers into benefits that the landowner wants!” explains Tim. “The new CRP programs are more site specific, but contracts for smaller tracts may take just as much time as for larger tracts. Progressive crop advisors can weave natural resource management into a whole farm operation; he or she just needs a few tools. That is our challenge as trainers: translating the process so that people’s eyes don’t roll.”
A particularly innovative move is the use of Prezi, an online “cloud” application to deliver the CRP training and support for the first workshop in Lancaster. “The idea is that the CRP and other government programs are steeped in paperwork, which can often bury the training sessions. And it is difficult to remember all the processes, references, etc. So we are experimenting with Prezi to capture that information. We may eventually develop different sections for each type of CRP program (general, continuous, CREP) and for those specific to each state."
Tim continues, "I will be using Prezi in the classroom and then providing the link so that each student has it at their fingertips and can check the notes when their memory fails them. Being a cloud-based software, any time the CRP is changed, we can just change it in the Prezi and everyone is updated. I think the big deal on this is it has the potential to allow the landowner, CRP Tech, or anyone who wants to see what goes into these complex programs.
By outsourcing not only the training but the advisors themselves, the program is seeking to become more user friendly from both the landowner’s and the advisor’s perspective. “NRCS leadership put this program forward,” says Tim. “The next challenge will be to develop this work force and integrate it with the existing system.”
Trainings across the country begin the week of March 20, 2012. Sign up for a training, or read our previous blog about this program.