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USDA-NRCS Drought Assistance

Drought 2014Conservation Assistance to California Farmers, Ranchers and Forest Landowners

California has seen many droughts. Our goal is to support resilience of agriculture through addressing priority resource concerns with conservation practices. We are working towards science-based, region-specific information and technologies so agricultural and natural resource managers may enable climate-smart decision making and provide assistance to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to adapt to climate change and weather variability.

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: Financial & Technical Assistance
Funding 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.

NRCS professionals can help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners understand what options exist for their particular water situation, soil type, and ag production goals. Together, we can develop a plan to get through the drought. Funding is 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, funds may be  available for erosion control through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program.

Three Priorities
1.  Building resiliency through soil health;
2.  Protecting drought-impacted crop, range, and forestland;
3.  Stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management.

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 may also be done through EWP. Working with a local sponsor will facilitate many of the same soil protection practices accomplished through EQIP, but using the accelerated procedures available through EWP’s disaster provisions.

Conserving Land
Working on cropland, range, or forestland without rain is challenging. For some, managing crops, livestock, or forests, means taking advantage of available grass and protecting areas from overuse. It may be easier with tools such as efficient watering systems, piping, troughs, and fencing. NRCS and the landowner can develop management plans to document the decisions needed to make the best use of resources remaining on the land.

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.

Finding a Conservationist
NRCS has offices in 55 of California’s counties. All are taking drought applications. Locate your office at

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Fact Sheets

USDA Assistance Resources

Additional Resources

Updated: 05/21/2021

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