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Groups of Wisconsin farmers can apply for the first round of Producer Led Watershed Protection grants in a new program that aims to address soil and water issues with homegrown answers. Applications will be accepted Feb. 29-April 1.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will award grants to producer led groups that focus on ways to prevent and reduce runoff from farm fields, and work to increase farmer participation in these voluntary efforts. Each group is eligible for up to $20,000 a year, with a total of $250,000 available in each of the next two years.

'The Governor included this initiative in the 2015-17 budget to support farmers in their conservation efforts,' said Ben Brancel, Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 'This program is designed to give financial support to farmers who are willing to take leadership roles in their watershed and to work collaboratively to address water quality issues.'

Applicants must be groups of at least five farmers whose farms are in the same watershed and each produced at least $6,000 in gross farm revenue last year, or $18,000 in the past three years. They must work with DATCP, the Department of Natural Resources, a county land conservation committee, the University of Wisconsin-Extension, or a nonprofit conservation organization. The group must help other producers in the watershed voluntarily work to reduce runoff pollution from farm fields, and contribute matching funds at least equal to the grant request.

A few examples of projects include:

· Startup work such as watershed planning and bringing in experts to speak about soil and water quality issues.

· Incentive payments to farmers to do soil testing and nutrient management planning, plant cover crops, install grassed waterways, and other conservation activities.

· Developing new approaches to manure storage.

· Hosting conferences, workshops or field days.

· Grant funds cannot pay for more than 25 percent of staff time, or for real estate, loans, equipment purchases, or lobbying.

Application materials are available at http://tinyurl.com/jdgyqk6, or by going to datcp.wi.gov and searching for producer led. They must be submitted by email. Farmers with questions should contact Rachel Rushmann, 608-224-4622, rachel.rushmann@wi.gov.

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