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For Your Farming Operation Valuable Improvements Can Be Inexpensive

By Lynette Cockerell

With the cost of farming rising much faster than the expected payoff for most commodities, producers are looking for ways to improve their operations inexpensively. Whether the goal is to implement conservation practices, maximize water usage, or calculate the benefits of various crops or crop rotations, there are inexpensive, and often free, sources to help with the task.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has several programs to assist with conservation measures. For instance, the 2002 Farm Bill includes new provisions and additional funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

EQIP is designed to promote agricultural production and environmental quality through technical assistance, cost-share payments and incentive payments to assist producers with environmental and conservation improvements on private lands.

The program may pay up to 75 percent of the cost of certain conservation practices important to improving and maintaining the health of natural resources in the area. Also, limited resource farmers and beginning farmers may be eligible for up to 90 percent of the cost of conservation practices.

Cost-share payments can help producers implement one or more eligible conservation practices such as animal waste management facilities, terraces, filter strips, tree planting, and permanent wildlife habitat. Incentive payments can be made to implement one or more land management practices such as nutrient management, pest management, and grazing land management. EQIP offers contracts with a minimum term of one year after implementation of the last scheduled practice and a maximum of 10 years.


EQIP funding is available for qualified applicants to improve irrigation efficiency. Subsurface drip irrigation systems are one conservation measure that may qualify.

An additional farm bill provision was made with the creation of Ground and Surface Water Conservation under EQIP. Funding will promote ground and surface water conservation activities to improve irrigation systems, convert to the production of less water intensive agricultural commodities, improve water storage through measures such as water banking and groundwater recharge, or institute other measures that improve groundwater and surface water conservation.

“The ultimate purpose of EQIP is to strike a balance between agricultural production and natural resource conservation,” said Mickey Black, an assistant state conservationist in the Lubbock, Texas, zone office. “The program can make it possible for eligible producers to implement much needed conservation practices without the financial strain of paying for them completely out of their own pockets. It’s a great program.”

Another program offered by the NRCS places an emphasis on wildlife habitation. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) provides technical and financial assistance to landowners and others to develop upland, wetland, riparian (land beside a river, lake, or tidewater), and aquatic habitat areas on their property.

Since WHIP began in 1988, nearly 11,000 participants have enrolled more than 1.6 million acres into the program. Most efforts have concentrated on improving upland wildlife habitat such as native prairie, but there is an increasing emphasis on improving riparian and aquatic areas.

Species that have benefited from WHIP activities include the grasshopper sparrow, bobwhite quail, swift fox, short-eared owl, Karner-blue butterfly, gopher tortoise, Louisiana black bear, Eastern collared lizard, Bachman’s sparrow, ovenbird and acorn woodpecker.

Conservation districts convene local work groups to identify local wildlife habitat priorities. The local work groups then provide input to the State Technical Committee that advises conservationists in the development of a State WHIP plan. The plan serves as a guide for the development of the State WHIP ranking criteria.

Arnold Husky

Arnold Husky explains how a closed-system flow meter measures the efficiency of an irrigation well.

NRCS works with the participant to develop a wildlife habitat development plan. This plan becomes the basis of the cost-share agreement between NRCS and the participant. NRCS provides cost-share payments to landowners under these agreements that are usually five to 10 years in duration depending upon the practices to be installed.

For more information about EQIP or WHIP, contact your local USDA Service Center, listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture, or your local conservation district. Information also is available on the World Wide Web at:

In Texas, the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 offers flow meters and leak detectors on a free-loan basis to anyone living within its 15-county service area. Check to see if your county is serviced by the district.

Flow meters measure the amount of water that is moving through pipes while leak detectors can find leaks in pipes buried beneath the land’s surface.

“Using flow meters can help an irrigator find out if a well is producing as much water as it was originally designed to do,” said Arnold Husky, water use division director for the district. “This simple test can save a lot of money,” he added.

“For example, if your pump is designed to produce 600 gallons of water per minute and the flow test shows it is only producing 400 gallons of water per minute, there appears to be a problem with the pump, and it should be repaired,” Husky said. “This saves money in the long run because it costs about as much to operate a pump that is producing 400 gallons a minute when your pump is designed to produce 600 gallons of water per minute.”

If producers own a closed irrigation system and cannot use the water meter available through the water district, field representatives can meter the well electronically at no charge to the producer.

The water district also offers underground leak detectors on a free loan basis. The leak detectors use sensitive microphones that can “hear” the sound water makes as it flows from a leaking underground pipe.

“Often you may suspect that an underground pipeline is leaking; however, this type of leak can often be small and hard to detect,” Husky said. “Using the water district’s leak detector can help you prove or disprove a suspected leaking pipeline without the inconvenience of hiring a contractor to dig and locate the leak.”

For more information on flow meters or leak detectors, call the High Plains Underground Water District No.1 in Lubbock, Texas, at (806) 762-0181 or e-mail Arnold Husky, water use division director, at

The World Wide Web has made it possible for producers to access an abundance of information of a variety of subjects. One informative website featuring several interactive farm management decision-making tools was created by Kevin C. Dhuyvetter and Terry L. Kastens, both extension agricultural economists at Kansas State University.

“Cotton is a fairly new crop in Kansas,” Dhuyvetter said. “Several potential cotton producers have found our spreadsheets helpful, especially the tool for determining equitable crop share and cash rental arrangements.”

In addition to crop share and rental arrangements, the site includes tools for calculating the costs and returns for various crops and/or crop rotations, comparing returns of certified and farmer-saved seeds, and determining the maximum amount that can be paid for purchased land. Access these helpful spread sheets on by selecting the Decision Making Tools option.