USDA drought assistance available


The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) is a Farm Service Agency program that is usually tied to emergency situations such as drought, fire, and flooding. In the case of drought, NRCS conservationists go to the property and evaluate the existing water sources. A combination of issues may be to blame, such as low water levels in dams and dugouts, wells that aren’t keeping up, springs going dry, or simply bad water quality. NRCS can help with installing pipelines, tanks, wells, and solar panels.

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) is a NRCS program designed more for long-term planning in the event that another emergency such as drought returns. Practices have usually already been established to deal with it.

There are situations that are so catastrophic they qualify for Emergency EQIP funds. The Atlas storm in 2013 was one of these. Producers needed help with removal of animal carcasses, but the government was shut down at the time. As soon as they were able, NRCS was assisting with the construction of disposal pits, shelterbelt renovation, and fence rebuilding.

The NRCS promotes numerous conservation practices, with rotational grazing being frequently addressed. Conservationists look at the producers’ operations, what they have for production, how many head of livestock they run, and how they can assist them in utilizing their grass to its full potential. This may include water development and cross fencing.

Another important part of the rotational grazing option is the drought contingency plan. Conservationists sit down with producers and draw up a plan on paper in reference to what they will do when another drought hits. Will they sell the old cows first or the younger ones instead? Will they wean the calves early?

In January and March of this year, two devastating fires burned a total of nearly 25,000 acres in Perkins County in northwestern South Dakota. Emergency EQIP funds again helped relief efforts.

Cover crops planted in fields help after a fire so that burned rangeland has a chance to rest and recover. NRCS provided water sources to these cover crops and to other areas normally not grazed. Some producers decided to graze hay ground, so water was needed there as well. Electric fence was put up to fence off burned areas and graze what remained.

NRCS does the design work and the technical work for these projects. Engineers are on staff to assist with them when necessary. Producers either do the actual labor themselves or hire a contractor.

Approval for the programs requires producers to complete an application. A co-pay is also required of the producer and will depend on what work is being done and the cost of materials.

After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the South Dakota Women in Ag (SDWIA) group was back on track with its 2021 conference held Oct. 7 and 8 at The Lodge at Deadwood. This year’s event was much anticipated, with attendees representing five states: Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota, as well as South Dakota. The speaker lineup covered diverse topics and included a presentation on emergency conservation funding for agriculture producers.

Sarah Eggebo of Prairie City, South Dakota is a District Conservationist at the Bison, South Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Field Office. The NRCS began as the Soil Conservation Service, but the name was changed in 1994 as it no longer fit. By that time the agency had encompassed many more resources in addition to soil.

Another practice NRCS promotes is no-till farming. They also put up windbreaks and shelterbelts to help prevent erosion. Sometimes producers want assistance converting cropland back to grass, which also reduces erosion.

“No matter how much NRCS tries to prevent disasters, there are times when it just can’t be done,” said Eggebo. “A good example is this year’s drought. We get calls every day asking about water programs.”

Eggebo concluded her presentation with the following advice, “Just about every practice I’ve discussed here can be submitted whether it’s an emergency or not. The purpose today was to inform you of what we can do during emergencies, but we can assist you in normal situations as well. We’re here to help!”

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