FILE - AP hops farm, farming, farmer 9-2-2016

Peter Busque cuts hops from tall trellises Sept. 2, 2016, during the harvest at the Hamblen Farm in Gorham, Maine.

With federal conservation funds soon to be allocated for Maine agriculture, local farmers hope for as much or more to help with projects that encourage regenerative farming.

The practice is becoming more prevalent as more farmers discover the underlying importance of soil quality, Dave Herring, executive director of Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, told The Center Square.

“Healthier soil can both retain water for longer and absorb water quicker, that’s the basis for regenerative farming,” Herring said. “It’s a return to an agriculture that’s much more in harmony with natural systems.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is preparing to provide funding to farmers to help with improving sustainability practices.

“Funding though the USDA and NRCS is really important, it’s part of the solution as farmers move toward these practices that are more regenerative,” Herring noted. “It’s a different practice that may cost more in the short term, but long term it could reduce their costs.”

Earlier this month, NRCS District Conservationist Peter Abello met with farmers in Lincoln and Kennebec counties to gather input on federal funding allocations.

According to a report published by the Portland Press Herald, attendees want funding equal to or more than what was received this year. Abello said he has until April to submit his recommendations.

“When we think about shifting to a regenerative agriculture model, there really needs to be an all-of-the-above strategy, both financial and technical, from the government and NGOs, to help them transition to these new practices,” Herring said.

Through OpenTEAM (Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management), Wolfe’s Neck provides a platform of extensive knowledge to farmers around the world to improve soil health.

Agriculture of the future needs to be knowledge intensive rather than input intensive, meaning fertilizer and pesticides, Herring said.

“It can produce healthier food and help farmers improve their economic health, as well as being a broad-based solution to climate change.

“Maine has opportunity to be a real leader in this, given the state’s rich history in organic agriculture,” Herring added. “There’s a significant opportunity for Maine to be a real leader within that movement.”