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Angus Ranch Beefs Up Conservation Efforts to Weather Drought

By Michelle Banks, NRCS
Thursday, January 16, 2013

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Extreme temperatures and lower than normal rainfall in 2012 resulted in the worst drought in a generation. It was exceptionally dry from the northern Great Plains into the Deep South—an area covering nearly three-quarters of the United States—and forecasters say the coming year could be even worse.

What is a rancher to do? Some ranchers with dwindling water supplies and access only to expensive hay are choosing to sell calves early or further reduce the size of their herd. Many wonder if this will be the year they cease operations. 

Some ranchers plan to sustain their operations through the dry times ahead through conservation. Larry Cutliff, who runs a 45-head cow/calf Angus cattle operation in western Tennessee, took action by working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). 

“We knew that the carrying capacity of our pastures for next spring would not support our herd,” Cutliff said. “The prospect of drastically reducing our herd size was one option we were considering.” With NRCS’s help, Cutliff says, “We were able to renovate pastures without having to sell off a portion of the herd to pay for it.” NRCS shared the cost of reseeding 33.5 acres of Cutliff’s land with native cool-season grass mixes, from seed purchase to planting.

In January, NRCS designated $17 million worth of financial assistance to help the nation’s farmers and ranchers prepare for drought through EQIP. NRCS conservation programs like EQIP share the financial burden with landowners, helping landowners with conservation practices that not only protect the soil, water and other natural resources, but can also help make their operations more resilient in the face of drought. These practices include permanent reseeding; planting buffers, trees and shrubs; and installing or upgrading water systems such as pipelines and ponds. NRCS also provides technical assistance to prepare for and rebound from the drought. 

As Jason Weller, Acting Chief of NRCS says, “We are not just investing in conservation practices—we’re investing in families, rural communities and future generations.”

In western Tennessee alone, nearly $1.3 million in drought EQIP assistance helped 13 counties last year. The restoration of 7,700 acres of pastureland and installation of 38 livestock watering facilities helped prepare farmers and ranchers for next season’s round of heat and limited rainfall.

Learn more about EQIP.