In the North Texas rangeland, the landscape looks dismal after wildfires tore through nearly 200,000 acres, burned homes and businesses in towns, such as Sunset and Stoneburg, and left rural communities at a standstill.
Don Gohmert, state conservationist for the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), says grazing lands are charred, more than 1,500 miles of fence are in disrepair and animal losses in the area total 459 head at press time. But cattle and livestock producers in the area have some options to help them get back on their feet, he says.
NRCS offices in the affected Texas counties have set aside funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for interior fencing projects, erosion control and delay-of-grazing incentives for wildfire-damaged properties.
Texas ranchers aren't the only ones eligible for EQIP funding. The program, created in the 1996 Farm Bill, is open to farmers nationwide. Tom Christensen, NRCS deputy chief for programs, says there are 40,000 to 50,000 new contracts awarded to producers each year, many of which are for multiple years, as it takes time to implement some practices such as animal manure management systems and prescribed grazing.
"In recent years, [EQIP has] been funded $1 billion per year. We work with producers on individual contracts to improve environmental quality in a variety of situations. This could include cropland, range and pasture production, forestland, confined animal operations and many other situations,” he says.
"When you look at the EQIP legislation, it requires at least 60% to 70% of EQIP funding be directed toward conservation needs of animal operations. Beef operations are by far the largest animal sector, followed closely by dairy operations. In the last fiscal year [ending September 2008], nearly $400 million was obligated to beef producers,” Christensen adds.
|A rancher rolls up miles and miles of burned fence along his property line in Montague County, Texas.
Within NRCS, there are multiple programs that can benefit cattle operations. In your local NRCS office, you will find a technical and program guide with information specific to your area.
"We want to help producers with production and conservation needs, and if they are facing environmental regulations, we can assist them in complying with those requirements,” Christensen says.
"The nice thing about EQIP is we have a broad range of conservation practices that can be locally adapted to help specific production situations across the country,” he adds. "We focus on agricultural and environmental production as compatible goals. In many cases, there are local benefits that result, such as cleaner water and wildlife habitats.”
Tools to use.
Beef producers are often interested in fencing and water improvements. In many cases, producers who are also involved in row-crop operations can make improvements that mutually benefit both sectors of the operation.
Christensen says EQIP legislation provides a higher cost-share percentage for socially disadvantaged and beginning pro-ducers—up to 90% of the project cost—where typical producers' shares may receive up to 75%.
Cattlemen can visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs
for more on NRCS cost-share programs or visit the closest NRCS office for locally specific information.
In Texas, Gohmert says, cattle producers are anxious to get fences up and facilities back online, but progress is going to be slow. At press time, he was involved in an appeal to Texas Gov. Rick Perry for national emergency assistance funding.
"Our natural resources are very susceptible to Mother Nature,” Gohmert says. "That is the beauty of our EQIP and NRCS programs—we can offer assistance in the best and worst of times.” BT
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