Last winter, during the midst of our 50-something-day dry spell, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a variety of assistance programs designed to help California farmers and ranchers cope with the drought. Some of these programs helped ranchers access water for livestock; others reimbursed ranchers for emergency feed purchases or hauling costs. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offered emergency Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding to help farmers and ranchers improve irrigation efficiency and implement managed grazing.
The irrigation system at our main leased property consists of portable 2-inch aluminum pipe and rainbird sprinklers. It's not terribly efficient, especially with our hilly terrain. We applied for emergency EQIP funding to cover half of the cost of upgrading our irrigation system. In addition, since we've been using managed grazing systems (which involves timing our grazing and rest periods to maintain a healthy pasture and environment), we also applied for cost share funding to offset the cost of our additional fencing and labor. NRCS set a deadline of March 6 for submitting applications - the idea was to get funding "on the ground" to help farmers and ranchers get through this year's drought - or so I thought.
In April, I toured the ranch with our local NRCS district conservationist. He indicated that he thought the project looked good - and that we'd have to wait to see where we ranked relative to producers in the rest of the state. He was hopeful that we'd know something in May.
While all of this was happening, Congress finally passed a new Farm Bill, which updated (and changed) all of USDA's programs - including (apparently) the emergency drought programs. Nobody at the local level knows when they'll be able to start ranking projects and getting money on the ground. I've heard it may be November before the folks in Washington DC get it figured out. Apparently that's as fast as they can act in an emergency situation. Frustrating to say the least!
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