USDA to fund erosion protection

Program to provide financial, technical assistance

As a result of the state's severe drought conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced that supplemental funding will be made available to assist Colorado agriculture in the effort to protect native rangeland vegetation and cropland soils.

As a component of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, farmers and ranchers can apply for financial and technical assistance at any NRCS field office, located in each of the state's U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Centers. Through the component, applications are available for financial assistance in installing cover crop and residue management on cropland, and prescribed grazing on native rangeland.

Farmers that install cover crops or use residue management techniques will receive a flat rate of $10 per acre. Ranchers who employ prescribed grazing techniques will receive $2 per acre.

"The program is designed not only to protect natural resources, but to provide a little financial relief to ranchers and farmers," said Rick Stephenson, district conservationist with the NRCS. "There are going to be some incentive payments for them to apply these management practices."

The intent of the cover crop and crop residue programs is to protect fields from wind and rain related drought erosion.

"The cropland practices involve planting a cover crop to provide some vegetative cover to protect the soil from wind and water erosion, and/or to leave crop residues standing," Stephenson said.

"Or at least leave enough crop residue on the field to protect it from erosion."

Crop residue is considered the aftermath of the previously grown and harvested crop.

The prescribed grazing program involves rotating the use of livestock pastures.

"What we're asking for the people to do is allow their livestock to graze 30 days at a time, and then pull the livestock off for 75 days," Stephenson said.

There is a compulsory application for each of the programs.

If approved, Stephenson said farmers and ranchers will be required to sign a one-year contract essentially stating that the practices will be incorporated for the duration of the pact.

The incentives are based on a one-time payment, with a maximum of $25,000 per individual.

Stephenson said the NRCS has been working to simplify the application process in an effort to expedite the drought relief.

"We've worked real close with the Farm Service Agency at the state level and here at the local level to streamline the whole process and to try to reduce the amount of government red tape," Stephenson

said.

Stephenson also believes the programs can make an immediate impact.

"All of these agriculture producers are suffering to some extent because of the drought," he said."If everybody follows the rules and doesn't cheat, and if everybody does their best to implement these practices according to NRCS standards and specifications, I would suspect that we will definitely reduce the potential for erosion this fall, winter and spring."

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