Lorraine Merrill

The Monadnock Conservancy and five partner organizations have been awarded more than $1.2 million through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The awarded project, “Protecting Farmland in New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region,” will protect nearly 3,000 acres of farmland in the Monadnock region by 2021. One thousand acres will be conserved through Natural Resources Conservation Service funds; the remaining 1,700 acres will be conserved using a combination of private funds, state grant funding and donated easements.

“Farms play a key role in maintaining the rural character that makes the Monadnock region so special, and Connecticut River bottomland features some of the most productive soil in the country,” said Stacy Gambrel, conservation project manager for the Monadnock Conservancy. “Unfortunately, this riverfront land is also highly threatened by development.”

Gambrel previously worked as project manager for the Maine Farmland Trust under the leadership of John Piotti, who is now president of American Farmland Trust.

“For years, we sought to establish a ‘war chest’ for buying conservation easements on farmland to keep this important land in farming while also providing farmers with cash to acquire more land, invest in their operations or pay off debt,” Gambrel said.

The project will target riverfront farmland, especially land along the Connecticut, Ashuelot and Contoocook rivers, as well as waterways identified as impaired. While the main focus of this project is on acquiring agricultural conservation easements, the Monadnock Conservancy and its partners will also engage in education and outreach to landowners to promote conservation easements and stewardship practices.

The project partners, Cheshire County Conservation District, Land for Good, Connecticut River Watershed Farmers Alliance, Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation, and NRCS state and field office staff, will provide a minimum five workshops or events over the grant period on topics including farm succession planning, conservation options and land stewardship.

The Monadnock farmland project is one of 88 high-impact projects awarded nearly a quarter billion dollars, announced by former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in late December. An additional $500 million will be contributed by partners in these regional partnership initiatives to improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.

By 2018, the NRCS and its many partners will have invested at least $2.4 billion through RCPP, which was created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“RCPP plays a critical role in connecting partners with producers to design and implement conservation solutions that benefit both natural resources and agriculture,” Vilsack said. “The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation, and RCPP is contributing innovative conservation solutions to America’s communities.”

With funding from an earlier RCPP grant, the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts is currently seeking an agronomist to work with farmers in the four Connecticut River counties.

The New Hampshire Soil Health Initiative is a component of the multistate Long Island Sound Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The overall mission of the New Hampshire Soil Health Initiative is to carry out on-farm technical assistance and conservation planning to support successful implementation of new practices that will improve soil health and protect water quality in Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River watershed.

The position will also provide technical support to New Hampshire conservation districts, NRCS, watershed groups, UNH Cooperative Extension and other soil health partnership organizations.

Editor’s Note: Lorraine Merrill is commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.