Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Dec. 15, 2010, that the USDA is seeking proposals for projects that will bring partners together to help farmers, ranchers and private nonindustrial forest landowners implement beneficial water and land conservation practices.

"Farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land play pivotal roles in protecting and enhancing natural resources," Vilsack said. "Our goal is to support projects that will improve the health of the natural resources on their land and bring the environmental and economic benefits of conservation to their local communities."

The requirements for submitting project proposals for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) can be viewed at www.regulations.gov. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible producers in approved project areas.

Through AWEP, NRCS provides support for projects that conserve and improve water quality, use irrigation water efficiently, mitigate the effects of drought and climate change and take other actions that benefit water resources. NRCS enters into partnership agreements with federally recognized Indian Tribes, state and local units of government, agricultural and forestland associations, and nongovernmental organizations to help landowners plan and implement conservation practices in designated project areas.

Twenty-eight projects approved for AWEP in fiscal year (FY) 2010 are supporting water conservation efforts in 9 states. For example, in Luna County, $2.4 million was provided to help farmers on irrigated crop land convert irrigation systems from inefficient flood irrigation to highly effective drip (or micro-irrigation) systems.  It is estimated that several hundred acre-feet of water will be saved over a ten-year period.

Through CCPI, NRCS and partners assist producers in implementing conservation practices on agricultural and nonindustrial private forest lands.  NRCS leverages financial and technical assistance with partners' resources to install soil erosion practices, manage grazing lands, improve forestlands, establish cover crops, and reduce on-farm energy usage and other conservation measures.  CCPI is open to federally recognized Tribes, state and local units of government, producer associations, farmer cooperatives, institutions of higher education and nongovernmental organizations that work with producers.

Twenty-six projects in 14 states were approved for CCPI in FY 2010.  There were two significant CCPI projects which began last year in New Mexico.  The Arizona-New Mexico Borderlands Initiative is designed to improve more than 10 million acres of grazing land along the New Mexico and Arizona border. In New Mexico, ranchers in Grant, Hildago and Luna