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USDA offers $21M to mitigate drought

EQIP funds available for financial and technical assistance in severely drought-stricken regions in 8 states.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Monday it will provide an additional $21 million in technical and financial assistance through Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to target areas that are experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions as of the May 5, 2015 U.S. Drought Monitor, which includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah.

These investments will focus financial and technical assistance in the most severely drought-stricken areas in eight states to help crop and livestock producers apply conservation practices that increase irrigation efficiency, improve soil health and productivity, and ensure reliable water sources for livestock operations.

"Since the historic drought of 2012, dry conditions have persisted in many parts of the country, particularly in the West," agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Every day, NRCS conservationists work side-by-side with agricultural producers and help them conserve water and increase resilience in their operations.”

The latest investment will provide additional resources in drought-stricken areas to help farmers and ranchers implement solutions to mitigate the impacts of sustained drought. NRCS chief Jason Weller noted that NRCS allows for a locally-led approach and in the last two to three years have helped invest in an array of tools to increase efficiencies, maintain and even increase yields with less water and help pasture and rangelands withstand drought.

The EQIP funding will allow NRCS to help producers apply selected conservation practices to better deal with the effects of drought in their operations, including prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, nutrient management, irrigation systems, and other water conservation practices. On average, farmers and ranchers contribute half the cost of implementing conservation practices.

Vilsack explained in terms of pasture and rangeland support, the assistance can help make sure grazing activity is consistent with preserving as much in terms of water and soil as possible. This includes rotational and prescribed grazing. Weller said having correct stocking rates can improve the ability for rangeland to resist invasive weeds. Invasive weeds also tend to be water thirsty and can soak up water that otherwise flow from springs or other sources.

Weller added that infrastructure assistance can also support water facilities and access control to help protect riparian areas.

Forage can also help keep soils cooler, which also helps soil withstand higher temperatures and increase water capacity, he said. The end result is more resilient and successful operations, Weller said.

Funding will be available for the next 30 days. Producers and landowners are encouraged to visit the NRCS website or stop by their local NRCS office to find out if they are eligible for this new funding.

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