The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is conducting two public meetings in Texas to receive input from farmers, ranchers, and others on the use of third party vendors in providing on-farm technical assistance and services related to USDA program participants. Third party vendors are non-NRCS individuals certified to provide technical assistance on behalf of USDA.

Technical assistance could include the development of conservation plans or the design, layout, installation, and checkout of approved conservation practices. It could also include the development of resource assessment data such as brush and forage inventories or erosion estimates for use in conservation plan development and the development of conservation plan components such as nutrient management or pest management.

NRCS and local soil and water conservation districts have traditionally provided technical assistance for conservation planning and practice installation, and will continue to do so. In addition to NRCS and conservation district assistance, technical assistance will also be available from vendors outside of USDA.

If an effective and efficient program is formulated, the use of third party vendors could increase the technical capacity of NRCS and conservation districts. It could also help to ensure participants receive timely assistance in meeting USDA program requirements Pending legislation in the 2002 farm bill includes language on the use of third party vendors, including payments to vendors for that assistance.

In anticipation of passage of the legislation, NRCS is gathering information on what customers want and how they envision using the system.

Agricultural producers may participate in a meeting at either of the locations most convenient to them:

  • April 18, 2002, Big Country Hall, 1-3 p.m., 1982 Lytle Way, Abilene.

  • April 19, Patti Dodson Health Center, 1-3 p.m., 2805 North Navarro Street (U.S. Highway 77 North) Victoria.

The following issues will be addressed at each of the meetings and should be addressed in any written comments. Interested individuals are encouraged to provide comment to the following:

As a farmer or rancher, what are your expectations on the use of third party vendors?

How can NRCS ensure that a third party vendo program is farmer and rancher friendly?

How can private sector technical assistance be offered in ways that will be convenient to farmers and ranchers and designed to meet their needs?

What are the specific features farmers and ranchers would like to see in the Third Party Vendor Program?

To allow for as many speakers as possible, each speaker will be limited to five minutes. Written or oral comments will be officially received as part of the public record.

Written comments will be accepted at each meeting and by mail or facsimile. Written comments must be postmarked or faxed by April 30, 2002, and addressed to: Tomas M. Dominguez, Acting State Conservationist, USDA-NRCS, 101 South Main Street, Temple, Texas 76501-7602, or fax 254-742-9819.