This file photo shows cover crops planted in a field in southeastern Jay County. Jay County Soil and Water Conservation District has grants available for farmers interested in implementing best management practices, such as the planting of cover crops to help restore nutrients to the soil and prevent erosion. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
This file photo shows cover crops planted in a field in southeastern Jay County. Jay County Soil and Water Conservation District has grants available for farmers interested in implementing best management practices, such as the planting of cover crops to help restore nutrients to the soil and prevent erosion. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
A local organization is helping distribute thousands of dollars to farmers to implement agricultural best management practices.

Jay County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is currently promoting two grant programs, Clean Water Indiana and Upper Salamonie River Cost-Share Program, both designed to help fund conservation projects to improve soil health and water quality across Jay County and surrounding areas.

Some examples of the best management practices that these grants can cover include, but are not limited to, cover crops, filter strips, equipment modifications, two stage ditch and animal exclusion from sensitive areas.

Both grants, which are available through 2019, are year-to-year, so there are no long-term contracts, said Jay County SWCD coordinator Bettie Jacobs.

“These grants can open up a lot of opportunities for our farmers,” Jacobs said. “If you want to try cover crops and you’ve never done it before but you don’t want to sign up for three to five years, you can do it for one year to see if you like it.”



Clean Water Indiana

In 2017, Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the State Soil Conservation Board awarded nearly $900,000 in Clean Water Indiana grants to 25 soil and water conservation districts.

This included Adams, Blackford, Jay and Wells Counties receiving $154,500 to be spent on conservation projects designed to improve water quality of the Upper Salamonie and Upper Wabash River watersheds.

“Water is not a renewable resource,” Jacobs said. “What we have is what we get to keep. So, by making sure we keep what we have clean, that’s what it all comes down to.”

Those interested in applying to receive cost-share grant money to implement best management practices should contact the conservation district or watershed coordinator Tim Kroeker at (260) 766-1104.

“We’re starting to see a significant reduction in the amount of sediment and nutrients prevented from entering Indiana’s waterways, as a result of Clean Water Indiana,” said Melissa Rekeweg, department of agriculture deputy director, in a press release. “There is still much work to be done to improve our water quality, and these grants are critical to that effort.”



Upper Salamonie River Cost-Share Program

The Upper Salamonie River project, implemented by Jay County Commissioners in 2016, is funded with Section 319 grants by Indiana Department of Environmental Management. 

Through this grant, a cost-share program was developed and promoted for the implementation of best management practices by farmers and landowners in portions of the Upper Salamonie River Watershed in Jay and Blackford counties.

After conducting a watershed management plan in 2015, which included examining the climate, geology, soil and land use and water quality of the Upper Salamonie River, Kroeker said excess nutrients and E. coli or bacterial contamination getting into waterways were issues found within the area. 

“Eighty percent of the watershed is agricultural in nature,” Kroeker said.

“That’s where we can make our biggest impact as far as trying to address these situations that are causing problems with our water quality.”

Although the grant has more of a focus on water quality, Kroeker said SWCD wanted to make sure that the group is also serving the agricultural community by improving overall land and soil health as well.

The grant will award $35 per acre of cover crops, up to $3,000 per application. The maximum cost-share for all other projects is 75 percent of actual cost or average cost, whichever is less, with funding caps dependent on the practice being installed.

Applications for the cost-share program will be taken continuously and ranked periodically until cost-share funds are depleted or until the program closes in December 2019.

Application packets are available at the soil and water conservation district offices in Portland and in Hartford City.

“Farmers should really look into these grants because I think it’s a win-win,” Kroeker said. “These are not only designed to improve water quality and the natural systems that we’re living in, but they are also going to improve (farmers’) bottom line. A lot of these practices will help improve soil health, keep nutrients in place, cut down on costs.

“Each farm is a little bit different, so how you use these practices will be different from farm to farm. These grants are really here to help make taking some of those risks easier so people can explore and do things that are better for them as well as the environment.”

As part of the Section 319 grant, the Jay County Commissioners will also be implementing education and outreach programs, including three field days, designed to bring behavioral changes and encourage BMP implementation, according to Indiana Department of Environmental Management.