Conservation Assistance to California Farmers & Ranchers
California has seen many droughts come and go, but 2014 is creating especially dire conditions for the State’s farmers and ranchers. Historic low precipitation in 2013, preceded by below normal precipitation in 2012, left most state reservoirs at between 6% storage in the Southern Sierra to 36% storage in Shasta. On Jan. 17, 2014, Governor Edmund Brown Jr. declared a drought emergency. On Jan. 31, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.
Step 1: Get a Conservation Plan
A conservation plan is a written record of your management decisions and the conservation practices you plan to use and maintain on your land. NRCS encourages landowners to work with conservation planners to voluntarily develop a plan that meets the personal and business objectives as well as specific needs of the landscape, the landowner or manager.
NRCS conservationists can help farmers and ranchers understand what options exist for their particular water situation, soil type and production goals and develop a plan to get through the drought. Through conservation planning, many effects of drought can be addressed and/or lessened dealing with water conservation and soil health concerns.
Talk to your NRCS conservation planner about creating or updating your conservation plan and any conservation program cost-share opportunities available. In California, having a plan will give conservation program applicants a higher status when applying for competitive contracts. Plans are voluntary and are a work in progress. All information provided to NRCS for conservation planning purposes is strictly confidential.
For more information contact your local NRCS office.
Step 2: Consider Funding Opportunities Available
$30 million is being made available through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers. NRCS can help with conservation practices that have proven helpful in past droughts, such as 2009.
There is $25 million available to help farmers and ranchers pay for many of these practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Reimbursement rates typically cover about half the cost of the practice. Additionally $5 million will be made available for erosion control through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program.
Protecting soils made vulnerable due to water cut backs.
Protecting drought-impacted rangeland.
Stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management.
Program Description & Related Documents
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Drought Fact Sheets & Related Documents
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Save the Soil
Farmers without access to adequate water to produce a crop may find themselves thrust from a water crisis to a dust crisis. Options for protecting fields vulnerable to wind erosion include cover crops, surface roughening, residue management, converting to crops that use less water, mulching, or other practices.
Some of this critical erosion protection work will also be done through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. Working with a local sponsor, the EWP program will facilitate many of the same soil protection practices accomplished through EQIP, but using the accelerated procedures available through EWP’s disaster provisions.
Ranching without rain is really tough. For some ranchers managing the livestock to take advantage of available grass while protecting areas from overuse, may be made easier with tools such as livestock watering systems, piping, troughs, and fencing. NRCS and the rancher develop grazing management plans to document the decisions needed to make the best use of what forage remains on the ranch.
Living with drought and climate extremes seems to be the norm in California. Maintaining the range livestock industry in the face of drought is no easy task. Mitigating drought by improving land resiliency while maintaining the most efficient herd can assist with this effort. UC Cooperative Extension along with RCD’s, NRCS and FSA have been holding drought workshops throughout the state focusing on this. The following link, http://sfrec.ucanr.edu/Outreach_-_Education/Workshops_and__Field_Days/, has numerous presentations that can be referred to for information on subjects ranging from by-product feeds to good culling practices. If you have specific questions call your local livestock farm advisor or your local NRCS office.
Stretching Every Drop
Farmers who have access to water and want to make every drop count, should develop irrigation water management plans with their NRCS conservationists or other consultants. Assistance to improve irrigation systems is available to help farmers working to produce a crop with a smaller allocation of water. These projects will be medium or low priority after approving projects needed to protect bare soil.
Finding a Conservationist
NRCS has offices in 55 of California’s counties. All are taking drought applications. Locate your office at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=CA.
USDA Assistance Resources
Updated: March 5, 2014
Other California NRCS Features