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2012 Wow! What a Year!

2012 Annual Report - WOW! What a Year!

Through Farm Bill programs, special initiatives and technical assistance, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employees, volunteers, landowners and agricultural producers in every region of Arkansas addressed the state’s primary resource concerns of water quality, water quantity, soil erosion, soil condition, plant condition and air quality. Following is a brief highlight of the conservation work accomplished in Arkansas during Fiscal Year 2012.

Agricultural Water Enhancement Program

The Little Red River Irrigation District AWEP project addresses water quantity and quality concerns in the Little Red River Watershed in White County.  The project area encompasses approximately 83,838 acres southeast of Searcy containing approximately 34,000 acres of irrigated cropland. The area has been designated as a critical ground water use area by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The project area is approximately 14 miles in length and averages about 10 miles in width.  Farmers in the project area received $818,519 in financial assistance in Fiscal Year 2012, funding 28 applications on 2,559 acres.

Conservation Stewardship Program

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CStP) encourages agricultural and forestry producers to undertake additional conservation activities while improving and maintaining the existing conservation on their land. The program provides financial and technical assistance to conserve and enhance soil, water, air and related natural resources. CStP is offered statewide through a continuous sign-up process with periodic ranking periods to evaluate all submitted applications. In fiscal year 2012, 58 contracts were developed, enrolling 600,147 acres. The contracts will provide more than $19.4 million in financial assistance to participants over the five-year contract agreements.

Drought

Arkansas experienced one of the worst droughts in the state’s history during 2012. The areas in Arkansas that were charted as “D4 Drought – Exceptional” rapidly spread from five to 69 counties between July 10 and July 31, 2012. The drought had a direct impact on livestock producers who were relying on warm season forages for grazing and hay production. Many producers were also unable to maintain adequate water for cattle operations.   Due the critical situation, a Drought Initiative was offered in FY 2012 and Arkansas launched an Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program sign-up offering financial assistance for conservation practices to treat resource concerns created by the drought. NRCS field offices collected 3,936 applications in nine days. The financial assistance requested from the applicants totaled more than $44.1 million. Although Arkansas received more funds than any other state, the financial assistance provided resulted in 254 contracts that totaled $6.6 million, far less than the $44.1 million requested.

Emergency Watershed Program

The Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program provides technical and financial assistance to reduce hazards to life and property from floods, ice storms, earthquakes, tornadoes or other watershed impairments caused by a natural event. All practices must be economically and environmentally defensible and conform to NRCS technical standards.  Typical work in Arkansas includes repair of levees, removal of sediment and debris from drainage ways, removal of logjams that cause significant problems and streambank protection.  Severe flooding in 2010 caused significant damage to drainage systems across Arkansas. In Fiscal Year 2012, NRCS completed nine projects for more than $1.7 million.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) promotes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals. It provides financial and technical assistance to install or implement structural and management conservation practices on agricultural land.  EQIP priorities in Arkansas are to reduce erosion; reduce pollution from animal wastes, nutrients and sediments; improve irrigation and reduce dependence on ground water for irrigation; forest improvements; improve grazing lands; and improve wildlife habitat.  Arkansas farmers received more than $49.7 million in EQIP financial assistance in Fiscal Year 2012, funding 2,057 applications. This financial assistance will help install conservation practices to reduce soil erosion, use water more efficiently and improve grazing land, wildlife habitat and water quality on more than 459,000 acres.  Other initiatives under EQIP included Energy (124 contracts for $1.8 million), Organic (20 contracts for $272,485) and Seasonal High-Tunnel (47 contracts for $335,826).

Illinois River Sub-Basin and the Eucha-Spavinaw Lake Watershed Initiative

NRCS received funding for a water quality initiative in the Illinois River Sub-Basin and the Eucha-Spavinaw Lake Watershed in northwestern Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma.  The purpose of the project is to improve water quality of the Illinois River Sub-Basin and Eucha-Spavinaw Lake Watershed (which include Lake Tenkiller, Lake Eucha and Lake Spavinaw in Oklahoma) while maintaining the food and fiber production in the area.  The project is located in portions of Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas and parts of Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma.  Funding will be used to assist landowners in the 1.32 million acre area over an eight-year period. The area includes 576,517 acres in Arkansas and 739,156 acres in Oklahoma.  NRCS and its conservation partners plan to further treat and reduce water quality resource concerns through conservation practices which will avoid, control, and trap the nutrients and sediments. The combination of these kinds of practices both upland from and adjacent to the water bodies will be highly beneficial to the water resources in the area.  Farmers and ranchers in the project area received more than $4.1 million in financial assistance in Fiscal Year 2012, funding 133 applications on 10,842 acres.

Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative

To improve the health of the Mississippi River Basin, including water quality and wildlife habitat, NRCS offers the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI).  Through this Initiative, NRCS and its partners help producers in selected watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin voluntarily implement conservation practices and systems that avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; and maintain agricultural productivity.  The focus areas in Arkansas are Lake Conway-Point Remove, L’Anguille, Cache, Lower St. Francis, Bayou Macon, Boeuf River and Little River Ditches watersheds.  Arkansas has a total of 19 Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and five Wetlands Restoration Enhancement Program (WREP) projects.  Through the CCPI projects, 404 contracts were funded on 92,113 acres for more than $17 million. WREP projects totaled 24 easements, on 4,224 acres for more than $5.4 million.

National Water Quality Initiative

Through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), NRCS is offering financial and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners interested in improving water quality and aquatic habitats in priority watersheds with impaired streams. NRCS will help producers implement conservation and management practices through a systems approach to control and trap nutrient and manure runoff. Qualified producers will receive assistance for installing conservation practices such as cover crops, filter strips and tailwater recovery systems.  Arkansas priority watersheds are Cousart Bayou – Little Cypress Bayou, Upper Deep Bayou and Lower Deep Bayou.  Arkansas’s three watersheds were selected based on the high amount of sediment and total phosphorus concentration that flow into tributaries of the Bayou Bartholomew watershed. Deep Bayou and Jacks Bayou, which flow through the watersheds, have been identified as impaired waterways because of excessive levels of siltation primarily from agricultural practices. The three watershed total 62,473 acres in parts of Jefferson and Lincoln counties.  In fiscal year 2012, a total of 39 contracts totaling more than $1.6 million were developed, enrolling 10,360 acres.

USDA StrikeForce Initiative

The USDA StrikeForce Initiative is designed to help relieve persistent poverty in high poverty counties by accelerating USDA assistance while working closely with Community Based Organizations.  NRCS provided funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). More than $3.9 million in financial assistance funded 127 contracts on 16,011 acres in the StrikeForce counties in FY 12.  The counties are: Arkansas, Bradley, Chicot, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Hempstead, Howard, Jackson, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Nevada, Newton, Ouachita, Phillips, Randolph, Searcy, Sevier, St. Francis and Woodruff.

Wetlands Reserve Program

The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. Restored wetlands provide wildlife habitat for migratory birds, threatened and endangered species and other wetland wildlife. NRCS enrolled 22 tracts covering 4,652.35 acres and obligating more than $6 million during Fiscal Year 2012. Wetlands were restored on more than 10,312 acres with total obligations of more than $15.2 million.  This program offers landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection. Arkansas ranks second in the nation in the number of acres enrolled with more than 215,000.