EQIP boosts grazing
Some Nebraska Panhandle ranchers now raise more grass, cattle and wildlife by taking part in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP is a voluntary conservation program available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to private landowners and operators.
Through EQIP, farmers and ranchers can receive financial and technical help to apply conservation practices, according to Kristin Miller, NRCS district conservationist serving Cheyenne, Deuel and Kimball counties. EQIP has been a very successful program in the southern Panhandle, she adds.
At a glance
• EQIP helps Nebraska ranchers improve their grazing land.
• Cheyenne County family reaches its goal with NRCS funding.
• Their grazing plan improves grass and increases wildlife.
“EQIP works well for several types of operations because it is so flexible. There are incentives available through the program that can help landowners improve their cropland, grazing land, forestland and wildlife habitat,” Miller says.
For father-and-son ranchers, Randy and Beau Mathewson, EQIP helped them improve their Cheyenne County rangeland. The Mathewsons wanted to get their cattle into a rotational grazing system, and a 2001 EQIP contract helped them reach that goal by installing livestock tanks, pipeline and permanent electric fence. Grass seeding was also done to help improve the quality and quantity of grass.
In 2005 and 2007, the Mathewsons made further rangeland improvements through EQIP, including installing two wells and additional livestock tanks and pipeline. EQIP provided up to 65% cost-share on the practices installed.
These EQIP practices allowed the Mathewsons to split their 960-acre pasture into three separate pastures. The cattle rotate on a schedule that gives each pasture a rest period, which provides the plants an opportunity to recover from grazing, hoof action and other stress from the cattle.
Despite a severe drought for the past several years, the rotational grazing system has already had a positive impact on their rangeland, according to Randy Mathewson.
“We have seen improvements to our grass in just a couple of years,” he says. “I know that a full recovery will take a long time, but it’s amazing how much wildlife we see out here now. We’ve seen grouse on the pasture for the first time.”
The NRCS’ Miller says that rotational grazing systems do help improve wildlife habitat, and will help ranchers maintain stability and sustainability over the long haul.
“The ranchers who were practicing rotational grazing during the drought saw their rangeland maintain plant vigor and health. In normal precipitation years, like in 2009, rotational grazing also leads to more plant diversity.
“EQIP helps make installing a rotational grazing system more accessible to more ranchers, which is good news for the health and productivity of our rangeland,” Miller says.
The Mathewsons also participate in the Nebraska Grazing Land Coalition’s Rangeland Monitoring Program, which is funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and NRCS. It provides participants an initial on-site consultation and training session with a rangeland technician who will provide assistance in developing a monitoring plan, establishing one monitoring site and collecting samples.
Participants also receive a rangeland monitoring kit, consisting of grass shears, scale, tape measure and clipping frame to help monitor rangeland health.
The Mathewsons are part of a group of 60 producers currently participating in the program. As part of enrollment, participants agree to share their knowledge and experience by committing to help one additional rancher or landowner in their region set up a similar monitoring program.
For more information about EQIP and other NRCS conservation programs, go to www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov/programs. For more information about the Rangeland Monitoring Program, go to www.nebraskagrazinglands.org.
Pope is a public information specialist in the state NRSC office
This article published in the February, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.