South Carolina farmers are urged to talk with conservation officials before draining any wet areas or bringing new land into production.

State Conservationist Niles Glasgow with the South Carolina USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) says farmers are under tremendous economic pressure to produce crops. Not only are grain prices at historic highs, but land, rent, fuel and fertilizer costs are also skyrocketing.

As they prepare for and complete harvest this fall, farmers should be cautious with managing wetlands in their fields, says Glasgow, since their eligibility for USDA farm program benefits could be at stake.

If you have a wet area which you’re considering putting into a crop, come in and talk to the NRCS staff. “We can do a wetlands determination to know if that area is a wetland or not and keep you out of trouble,” says Glasgow.

Since the 1985 farm bill was passed, there have been provisions in place to protect our nation’s wetlands and highly erodible cropland. Altering a wetland for the purpose of making production of an agricultural commodity, possibly causes the farmer to become ineligible for USDA program benefits. Glasgow says, “Producers need to understand that USDA program ineligibility remains with the person even if the person is no longer associated with the land.”

Some maintenance activities are allowed. However, producers should be careful to make sure the extent of the original manipulation is not exceeded. The best thing to do is check with your local NRCS office before taking action around wetlands. Landowners are also encouraged to ask NRCS staff about voluntary conservation programs that include financial assistance as an alternative to farming wetlands, which helps minimize the impact these wet areas have on farming operations.

“In addition, there may be other areas of grass that may not have been farmed before. If you’re thinking about breaking those out,” Glasgow says, “we can help you determine if that land is highly erodible or not and if it needs a conservation plan.”

Glasgow says the NRCS staff wants to keep their customers in compliance by avoiding violating the 1985 farm bill’s swampbuster and sodbuster provisions. NRCS wants to help producers avoid unintended violations with drainage or groundbreaking practices.

“Most farmers know if they have a wetland in their fields. But if they’ve taken on any new land this year, they may not be sure what ties are on that land. If there’s any doubt whether an area can be drained or broken out for farming, just come in and talk with the local NRCS staff.”

For more information, visit www.sc.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp.html or contact Amy Maxwell, 803-765-5402, amy.maxwell@sc.usda.gov.