In late February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an investment of $25 million in watersheds across the country to help improve water quality.
According to the press release accompanying the announcement, the funding will help agriculture producers apply conservation measures in 187 high-priority watersheds – including 17 new ones – in hopes of improving water quality downstream.
The funding is available through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), which works with farmers and landowners to implement voluntary practices, such as constructing filter strips, implementing nutrient management plans, and building terraces and buffers. The program has been in place since 2012.
Successful initiatives to date include Ohio’s East Branch South Fork Sugar Creek, one of the state’s most degraded watersheds. Eight farms own 75 per cent of the agricultural land within the watershed and have been working with their local soil and water conservation district to implement changes, including building waste storage facilities and covering animal feedlots plus manure storage areas. In Iowa, agricultural producers have been working to reduce phosphorus runoff into Walk Lake Inlet, part of Black Hawk Lake. So far, sediment runoff has been reduced by 1.630 tons annually and phosphorus by 3,544 pounds annually.
The NRCS plans to improve its water quality efforts in 2016 by introducing a new evaluation tool – resource stewardship evaluation – to help producers assess how their farm is operating, the value of the conservation projects currently in place and how they can improve their efforts.
Earlier in February, the NRCS also announced $720 million in funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for 84 projects across the country. Many of the projects involve providing assistance for livestock operators to help improve water quality, enhance soil health and protect agricultural viability.
Maryland and Delaware will be receiving $4.5 million for a joint project aimed at meeting TMDL goals within the Chesapeake Bay region. Conservation district staff in Maryland will be working with dairy farmers to install modern liquid separation technologies, reduce barnyard runoff and improve animal waste storage.
A separate project in Delaware is aimed at helping new poultry farmers gain access to composters or mortality freezers plus construct poultry waste structures and protect heavy use areas in a bid to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus leaching and runoff.
Minnesota plans to use part of its funding to assist feedlots under 300 animal units in meeting state and local ordinances in the areas of feedlot runoff and land application of manure.
If you’re interested in taking part in any of these projects or possibly gaining access to some of the funding available, I’d strongly suggest you contact your local soil and water conservation district or your state’s branch of the NRCS. Financial and professional assistance is available to manage your manure issues.