CENTREVILLE, Md. — Farmers could soon see dramatic changes in the way the Natural Resources Conservation Service does business.
Jimmy Bramblett, the USDA NRCS deputy chief for programs, told a large audience at Maryland’s Commodity Classic that the CART program is expected to streamline programs, making them more efficient, faster and more farmer-friendly.
CART is short for Conservation Assessment and Ranking Tool. It is scheduled to begin in October and Bramblett has high hopes for the planned changes.
He expects 2020 to be a little “rough” as the program takes shape, but hopes things will be running smoothly by 2021.
He was speaking on July 25 at the annual event. The Commodity Classic brings together grain farmers to award scholarships and awards, get legislative updates, hear from a guest speaker and then socialize over a crab feast and barbecue dinner.
The event is sponsored by the Maryland Grain Producers Association, the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, the Maryland Soybean Board and the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association.
“It’s in the top five level of changes over our history,” Bramblett said.
“Revolutionary is a good word,” he said in an interview by phone.
He explained that NRCS currently has 47 resource concerns like gully erosion and six different types of land use, which it now considers. Taken together, that creates a system of 282 different combinations of land use and resource concerns.
They are governed by about 120 different tools or models. To say it’s complicated is a massive understatement.
“It’s all but impossible to teach people to run one model consistently,” he said. “It’s overly complicated.”
The NRCS website says that CART “modernizes and streamlines NRCS’ conservation planning and program delivery, reduces workload on field staff, and improves the customer experience by creating an efficient application process. It is estimated that CART will save more than 200,000 hours of field office staff time. CART is part of the NRCS of the future effort which is making meaningful changes and improvements to all programs and services which will streamline processes, introduce efficiencies, incorporate technology and improve communication and data availability.”
It says that “planners will use CART to assess a client’s request(s) for assistance by evaluating the resource concerns, planned practices and site vulnerability, while also ranking a client’s request(s) for assistance in multiple funding pools for NRCS program funding consideration. To start a CART assessment, NRCS staff will select land units for evaluation in CART (all land uses will be available for selection). A base land inventory will be completed and the tool will use geospatial analysis to identify resource concern potential and vulnerabilities, as well as identify resource concern priorities.”
Bramblett said the tool will allow NRCS to provide more measurable results for things like water saved and erosion reduction. That’s important because Congress is insisting on definitive results which can be measured and reported.
“That’s a big deal,” he said.
He said the privacy concerns of farmers will continue to be protected under the program.
Bramblett, who grew up on a poultry farm, said that he also expects changes to dramatically reduce paperwork. He said an application for assistance from NRCS is now 23 pages long.
“We hope to get that down to three,” he said.
The Georgia native also heaped praise on Eastern Shore farmers for their efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers often complain that they feel they are under a microscope because of the water quality issues in the area.
“You all are leaders in the farming community,” he said.