NRCS offers conservation options for producers
This is the Fifth and final in a series of stories reporting on the water conference held in Imperial on March 27.
By Russ Pankonin
Andy Keep of Imperial is all about conservation and why wouldn’t he be—he’s the district conservationist with the Natural Resources Convervation Service (NRCS).
Keep covers the three counties of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District (URNRD) which include Chase, Perkins and Dundy Counties.
He works closely with the URNRD and the district’s farmers on the various conservation programs available.
The primary program Keep and his office focus on in this area is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Through EQIP, ag producers receive financial and technical assistance to implement structural and management conservation practices that optimize environmental benefits on working ag land and range land.
Funding for EQIP and other NRCS programs comes from the United States Department of Agriculture as part of the current Farm Bill.
Under the current bill, Nebraska is allocated $25 million to use across the state. Keep said his office gets around $400,000 each year for conservation projects.
In the URNRD, NRCS has helped pay for the conversion of most all of the gravity irrigated land to pivots.
And nearly all pivots in the district have been converted to low pressure drop nozzles to conserve water. NRCS also helped with cost-share on that effort as well.
Most conservation projects are cost-share partnerships with the producer.
In the case of temporary retirement of irrigated acres, producers receive annual payments over a three-year period.
For properties in the URNRD’s quick response area, the NRD added more dollars as an incentive to permanently retire irrigation. Quick response acres have the most impact on streamflow reduction.
With the irrigation conversions all but complete, EQIP dollars have been going towards the installation of soil moisture probes in fields.
A probe can accurately track moisture content at various depths of the soil. This allows farmers to better calculate the correct amount of water a crop needs.
It also helps to avoid over-watering. That’s an unnecessary cost to farmers that also cuts into their allocation for the growing season.
The NRCS incentive is $1,464.77 towards the cost of a probe.
Again, Keep and the URNRD have been working together to get as many soil probes as possible into the district’s irrigated fields.
The URNRD also offers its own cost-share program to reduce the cost to the producer. Keep said an advanced probe with a telemetry system runs in the neighborhood of $2,700.
The probes are sold by third-party vendors that install and remove them annually and maintain the telemetry system.
The next use of telemetry could be on flow meters installed on the irrigation wells. This can serve as another tool in managing water use.
Another comprehensive program available to producers is the Conservation Stewardship Program.
This is a five-year program where NRCS and the producer review their whole operation to see where conservation measures could be put to benefit.
Cost-share is also available for this program.
Producers wanting to sign up for the EQIP program can do so during the signup period, which is the third week in October, Keep said.
Keep said they don’t know what to expect for funding in the new Farm Bill in the works.
He said they have been told to expect budget cuts of up to 20 percent. Only time will tell.