The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Mission Resource Conservation District on March 7 celebrated the completion of conservation contracts with 150 farmers to repair cropland and protect natural resources throughout San Diego County that had been damaged by last fall’s fires.

NRCS conservationists worked with producers to develop plans and contracts to establish water conserving irrigation systems and erosion control measures on agricultural operations in the county. NRCS is spending approximately $4 million to split the cost of these systems and measures with the producers, using a Farm Bill program called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“EQIP is not a disaster program, it is a conservation program that helps farmers protect the natural resources of their land,” said NRCS State Conservationist Ed Burton. “And after last fall’s fires, the natural resources of San Diego farms certainly needed protecting.”

The scorched earth and steep hillsides required immediate attention to lessen the danger that soil would erode into the creeks, compromising both the cropland and the water resources. NRCS realized that conservation practices such as water-conserving irrigation systems and soil erosion methods could help both farms and the natural resources,” said Burton.

The day’s events started with a return visit to Kendall Farms, one of the sites that Burton and other agricultural leaders had visited on a post-fire tour last November. Kendall Farms now has a contract with NRCS and has begun work to establish water-efficient irrigation systems, prevent erosion and protect water quality.

“What we really want is to get back to farming,” said co-owner Jason Kendall. “We’re grateful for the help we’ve gotten from USDA to get the farm back up and running. They’ve really bent over backwards to get this done as quickly as possible.”

A reception for EQIP participants was held by the Mission RCD to celebrate the hard work that is resulting in the finished contracts. Although the contracts are just being completed, the NRCS had obtained special permission for San Diego producers to begin work before the contract was signed, so long as all technical standards were met. About half of the 150 contract holders have begun work on their irrigation and erosion control systems.