Financial help is available to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) special initiative for Arkansas producers impacted by the exceptional drought, says Mike Sullivan, Arkansas state conservationist with the NRCS.
Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) NRCS is addressing emergency issues associated with livestock production and recovery efforts aimed at restoration of pasture lands within the state's exceptional and extreme drought areas.
Additional funding has been approved for the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) to mitigate the effects of the drought on wildlife within forests and pastures.
Applications are being taken at county USDA service centers through Aug. 14.
"Arkansas is one of the hardest hit states and our livestock herds are in dire need of water and forage. This funding will help producers keep their cattle healthy, restore pastures, stop erosion and soil loss and protect forest land," Sullivan says.
"With this funding, we hope to provide some immediate relief and a catalyst for a quicker recovery," Sullivan said. "However, due to current regulations the money cannot be used to purchase hay."
While landowners statewide can apply for financial assistance, priority is given to those who have been in the exceptional drought area, defined by the National Drought Mitigation Center, the longest. A map of the areas in Arkansas is located at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu.
Through EQIP, farmers can apply for numerous practices designed to provide immediate drought relief. Practices include watering systems, planting of annual forages and permanent reseeding, and prescribed grazing. Several practices are also available to help with recovery from the drought. They are permanent reseeding, buffers, tree and shrub planting, and various water systems such as pipelines and ponds.
"One key area of relief is to plant annual forages to allow grazing this fall and winter and follow up with a permanent grass seeding next spring," Sullivan said. "The additional funding of this practice may allow producers to avoid liquidating their herds. For other practices it will mean a quicker recovery once rains begin in the fall. The pastures will recover more rapidly if grazing is discontinued. Re-establishment of grasses will prevent further erosion and decreased fertility in the soil. Sedimentation will be reduced and negative impacts to water bodies will be decreased."
Through the WHIP funding, drought relief and recovery practices include planting of annual forages and permanent reseeding (native grasses, forbs and legumes), buffers, and tree and shrub planting.
Landowners with a current EQIP contract can also request a contract modification to re-schedule planned conservation practices such as prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, water conservation and other conservation activities on pasture and forest land until drought conditions improve.
"NRCS will work closely with producers to ensure successful implementation of planned conservation practices," Sullivan said. "Where conservation activities have failed because of drought, NRCS will look for opportunities to work with farmers and ranchers to re-apply those activities. In the short term, funding will be targeted towards hardest hit drought areas."
According to the July 31 U.S. Drought Monitor, 81 percent of Arkansas is in an extreme drought and 44 percent is in an exceptional drought. In these areas up to 75 percent of the grass in pastures is considered severely impacted and may not recover. Livestock watering ponds are dry or so stagnant they are dangerous for the health of the herd.
Eighty-three percent of pastures in the state are rated as poor or very poor by the National Agricultural Statistic Service.An estimated 90 percent of the tree, shrub and pasture plantings through EQIP from this year will be a complete failure throughout the state. In the exceptional drought areas, it is anticipated that the trees from the last three years of plantings will die.
For more information on drought assistance, visit www.ar.nrcs.usda.gov or call your local USDA service center listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture, or your local conservation district.