Assistance Available to Agricultural Producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program

Agricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Through CSP, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners build their business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of their entire operation. NRCS plans to enroll up to 10 million acres in CSP in 2018.

While applications for CSP are accepted year-round, applications must be received by March 2, 2018, to be considered for this funding period.

Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat – all while maintaining active agriculture production on their land. CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

Some of these benefits of CSP include:

  • Improved cattle gains per acre;
  • Increased crop yields;
  • Decreased inputs;
  • Wildlife population improvements; and
  • Better resilience to weather extremes.

NRCS recently made several updates to the program to help producers better evaluate their conservation options and the benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications help producers see up front why they are or are not meeting stewardship thresholds, and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives. These tools also enable producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.

Producers interested in CSP are recommended to contact their local USDA service center or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Source: Montana NRCS News Releases

Off to a Good Start this Winter, Montana Snowpack Currently the Best in the Western U.S.

From NRCS:

The snowpack across most of the western U.S. isn’t looking good in most states, but it’s a different story in the state of Montana, according to snowpack data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

After a hot and dry summer, snowfall began at the end of September in the Treasure State, helping to alleviate fire concerns and beginning the seasonal snowpack at high elevations. Many basins began the new 2018 water year (starting Oct. 1) with at least some snow on the ground at the higher elevations, and most basins had snow at all elevations by the beginning of November. Consistent snowfall statewide during November increased snowpack totals through the third week of the month before a warm and dry period near the holiday melted some low elevation snow and slowed mountain accumulation. The early December lull in snowfall lasted through the middle of the month before the pattern made a major change.

The latter half of December brought substantial snowfall across the state and helped many basins improve from below normal in mid-December to near to well above normal on Jan. 1. During that same time, SNOTEL sites west of the Divide received up to 10.9 inches of snow water equivalent from storms, raising basin percentages in all western basins. While the most recent storm favored basins west of the Divide, basins east of the Divide also received up to 7.5 inches of snow water in south-central basins.

“The snowpack in Montana is off to a great start across the state, and it’s nice to brag about it, but it’s really important to remember that there is a lot of winter left to come,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana. He said typically, by this time of the year, about 40 to 50 percent of the seasonal snowpack has accumulated west of the Divide and 30 to 40 percent of the snowpack has accumulated east of the Divide.

“Really, it’s the April 1 and May 1 snow totals that mean the most for water users in Montana. By then we should have a better idea of the amount of water being stored in the statewide snowpack, and how that will impact water users during the spring and summer,” said Zukiewicz. Looking forward, Zukiewicz said the early spring months are critical when it comes to snowfall and water supply in the state, and continued consistent snowfall could put water users in a great position come the spring when the snowmelt begins. Only time will tell, he continued.

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found here after the 5th business day of the month:
http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

Soil Health Workshops Across Montana in January

A series of soil health workshops aimed at helping Montana producers learn new strategies and techniques for improving soil health on their land will be held across the state January 16-19, 2018. Attendees will learn how to add biological inputs to their operations to increase yield, decrease chemical inputs, and improve the resilience and health of their soils. Practices such as no-till (including potato and beet rotations), intensive grazing, diverse rotations, cover crops, and more will be discussed in the context of actual working farms and ranches.

The practice of improving soil health on farms and ranches is a movement that is sweeping across the nation. These workshops will introduce soil health principles for producers both large and small who are interested in improving the soil health on their land. The workshops will also talk about practical ways to implement soil health practices effectively, and how improving soil health can ultimately increase production and bottom lines.

Workshop dates: (Click on the speaker’s name for their bio)

1/16 Three Forks The Gathering Place Brendon Rockey and Steve Kenyon
1/17 Great Falls Holiday Inn Brendon Rockey and Wendy Taheri
1/18 Billings Big Horn Resort Brendon Rockey and Steve Kenyon
1/19 Miles City Sleep Inn Steve Kenyon and Wendy Taheri
1/19 Sidney Richland County Fairgrounds Event Center Brendon Rockey and Derek Axten

 

These workshops are presented by Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana, NRCS, and Montana Soil & Water Conservation Society.

Those interested in attending should register in advance at swcdm.org/soil-health. Workshops are $15 online through January 8, and $20 at the door. Doors open at 8am, and workshops begin at 9am and end in the mid afternoon. Contact Ann McCauley, 406-443-5711, with questions or to inquire about sponsor and vendor opportunities.

USDA Seeks Applications for $10 Million in Conservation Innovation Grants

Funding is available in three focus areas, including grazing lands, organic systems and soil health

BOZEMAN, Mont., Dec. 18, 2017 – USDA is offering grants for innovative ideas for conservation strategies and technologies. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS ) plans to invest $10 million in the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, funding innovative conservation projects in three focus areas: grazing lands, organic systems and soil health. Grant proposals are due Feb. 26, 2018.

“Conservation Innovation Grants play a critical role in developing and implementing new methods to help our customers across the country and here in Montana conserve natural resources, strengthen their local communities, and improve their bottom lines,” said Tom Hedt, NRCS state conservationist in Montana. “Today’s announcement supports our efforts to help producers build economically-strong and resilient farms and ranches by providing producers tools to utilize across their working farmlands.”

The NRCS uses CIG to work with partners to accelerate transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches that address some of the nation’s most pressing natural resource concerns. This year, NRCS is focusing funding in these areas:

  • Grazing Lands: Helping livestock producers make grazing management decisions, encouraging prescribed burning as a grazing management practice, and improving access to conservation planning tools used for developing grazing management plans.
  • Organic Agriculture Systems: Helping organic producers develop innovative cropping and tillage systems, edge-of-field monitoring, crop rotations, and intercropping systems.
  • Soil Health: Supporting both cropping and grazing systems, in a variety of climatic zones, that incorporate soil health management systems for addressing specific resource concerns like nutrients and availability. Evaluating multiple soil health assessment methods to assist in the development of new soil health indicators and thresholds.

 “Every sector of American agriculture has its unique conservation challenges,” said Hedt. “CIG enables USDA to help support new, innovative tools and techniques which have helped U.S. agriculture become the powerhouse we see today, leading the world in both production efficiency and conservation delivery. We encourage groups and individuals in Montana to take advantage of this grant opportunity.”

Potential applicants should review the announcement of program funding available at www.grants.gov, which includes application materials and submission procedures. All U.S.-based entities and individuals are invited to apply, with the sole exception of Federal agencies. Up to 20 percent of CIG funds will be set aside for proposals from historically underserved producers, veteran farmers or ranchers or groups serving these customers.

NRCS is hosting a webinar for potential CIG applicants on Jan. 11, 2018, at 4 p.m. Eastern. Information on how to join the webinar can be found on the NRCS CIG webpage.

CIG is authorized and funded under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Projects can last up to three years. The maximum award amount for any project this year is $2 million.

Since 2004, NRCS has invested nearly $286.7 million in more than 700 projects focused on providing farmers and ranchers new techniques, data and decision-making tools for improving natural resources conservation on their land.

Source: NRCS

NRCS Accepts Applications for Water Quality Projects in Camp, Godfrey Creek Watershed

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering funding through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to farmers and ranchers in the Camp and Godfrey Creeks watershed in Gallatin County to reduce sediment and agricultural related nutrient loads and E.coli and improve riparian function. While NRCS accepts applications for EQIP on a continuous basis, NRCS has set a deadline of Dec. 15, 2017, to apply for funding.

 

The Camp and Godfrey Creek watershed received special funding last year as part of the National Water Quality Initiative, which targets funding in watersheds to improve water quality. Both Camp and Godfrey Creeks were listed in the “Impaired Waters” category within the Montana Department of Environmental Quality 2014 Water Quality Integrated Report for excessive sediment and agricultural related nutrients loads.

 

With the help of partners at the local level, NRCS identified priority watersheds within states where on-farm conservation investments will deliver the greatest water quality benefits. State water quality agencies and local partners also provide assistance with additional dollars and planning assistance, along with outreach to farmers and ranchers.

 

For more information, contact the NRCS field office in Bozeman at 406-522-4012.

conservation applications

NRCS Offers Wildfire Recovery Assistance to Ag Producers in Montana

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering technical and financial assistance to agricultural landowners impacted by 2017 wildfires across Montana.

NRCS is accepting applications for its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to assist with livestock grazing deferment, damaged fence and post removal, livestock fencing, water facility development, critical area plantings, and cover crops. NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for 2017 wildfire recovery funding must be submitted by Aug. 15, 2017.

“NRCS in Montana is prepared to assist landowners in dealing with the effects of wildfires and dry weather conditions,” said Lisa Coverdale, NRCS state conservationist for Montana. “We want to work with landowners to help them address fire related resource concerns on their farm or ranch operations.”

High winds, low humidity, and prolonged dry conditions led to the summer wildfires in several Montana counties, and many landowners are faced with making plans for recovery after the wildfires.

Landowners impacted by recent wildfires are encouraged to contact their local NRCS office to seek assistance. NRCS can provide technical and financial assistance to install measures that address resource concerns caused by the wildfires. “We want to provide assistance that will help landowners and livestock producers accelerate the recovery of affected agricultural land and rebuild their infrastructure,” Coverdale said.

Landowners should visit their local NRCS office to apply for EQIP. Applications will be ranked, and those approved for funding will be offered a contract. Additional fire-related information can be found on the Montana NRCS website at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov.

Snowmelt Causes Rivers and Streams to Rise across Montana, More to Come

Rivers and streams are running high across the state of Montana from May snowmelt, and most have been above average for daily streamflows throughout the month. Data from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service showed that snowpack at high elevations in most basins peaked during the first week of May, but saw a rapid transition to melt shortly afterwards.

“The high pressure which dominated the weather patterns this month brought abundant sunshine, mostly dry conditions, and above average temperatures—the perfect combination for snowmelt,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist.

Some snow did fall in the high country over the month, adding to snowpack totals. SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) sites along and east of the Divide were treated to up to 31 inches of snow on May 18, providing one last day of powder skiing for those that were motivated to hike for it, Zukiewicz said. More importantly, he said this storm also helped to slow the snowmelt which was occurring a little quicker than normal due to the persistent warm and sunny weather.

Peak snow accumulation was above normal in many basins in the state, although a few central basins were below normal throughout the year with regards to snowpack. On June 1 many basins have snowpack in place that remains near to above normal for this date, but it has been melting faster than normal.

“To some extent, the above normal snowpack totals this year have been able to offset the rapid melt rates experienced during the month of May, leaving us near to above normal for today, but continued sunny and warm weather could move what’s left in the hills faster than we’d like to see it come out.” Zukiewicz  explained prolonged snowmelt is beneficial in many ways. It helps to keep water in the rivers later into the summer, keeps river temperatures down, and keeps water available to the irrigators in the state when demand is high.

Some basins that feed Montana from the south experienced record snowpack, causing concern over how much water would enter the rivers and reservoirs, and just how quickly the snowpack would melt out. “So far what has happened has been ideal,” Zukiewicz said. “The snowmelt spigot has been turned on and off a few times this month due to the periods of cooler weather, releasing the water in phases instead of one big push.”

With snowpack well above normal, there is still a large volume of water waiting to melt in the mountains of the Wind and Shoshone River basins. Federal and State water managers have worked diligently to plan for and manage the anticipated river flows, Zukiewicz said.

Long duration seasonal volume forecasts issued by the NRCS on June 1 indicate near to above average streamflows for the June-September period in many locations, but vary by basin. However, the weather over the next few weeks will play a critical role in the timing and magnitudes of flows in the rivers across the state of Montana through the summer. “Everyone is ready to get out and enjoy the mountains of the state, but cool and wet weather, and keeping the snow up in the hills as long as we can, will be better in the long run,” Zukiewicz said.

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found here after the 5th business day of the month:http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

Montana Mountain Snowpack Looking Good Entering Runoff Season

Streamflow Forecasts above Average for Spring and Summer

After low flows in some of Montana’s rivers last summer caused issues for irrigators, anglers and recreationists, the spring and summer runoff this year looks to yield above average streamflows, according to snowpack data released by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Snowpack across the state is above normal for May 1 in all but a few sub-basins. Basins west of the Divide, which typically peak during the month of April, are all above normal with high elevations still gaining as of the end of the month. East of the Divide, where snowpack at higher elevations typically peaks a bit later towards the end of April to mid-May, also saw excellent gains during the month.

“Last month there was some concern over the lack of snowpack in some basins east of the Divide that provide irrigation and municipal drinking water, but April provided relief via abundant mountain snowfall and valley precipitation,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for NRCS in Montana. “Two of these basins in southwest Montana, the Ruby River Basin and Hyalite drainages, have snowpack that is now normal for April 1.”

Abundant precipitation throughout this water year in most of Montana and healthy snowpack totals on May 1 have resulted in streamflow forecasts that are above average for most rivers in the state. In addition, the melt at higher elevations has been slightly delayed in some basins this year due to the cool and wet weather experienced during April.

“Delayed onset of snowmelt generally provides more efficient runoff and helps to keep the water in the mountains until it is needed to sustain streamflows later in the summer,” Zukiewicz said. “Over the last three years there has been early runoff of the seasonal snowpack, which has led to below average flows later in the season.” Streamflow forecasts issued by the NRCS are duration forecasts, or the total amount of water that will pass by a streamflow gauge during runoff season and do not forecast timing or magnitude of flows on any given day.

“The words ‘too much snow’ don’t come out of my mouth very often, but with regards to the snowpack in Wyoming basins, which feed the Bighorn River, it’s the case this year,” he said. Snowfall in the Wind River and Shoshone River basins has been record breaking this year, with snowpack totals over 200 percent of normal in some areas on May 1. Federal water managers have been working to make room for the water that will enter the river systems and reservoirs during runoff this year, increasing outflows from reservoirs in Montana and Wyoming. The May 1 – July 31 seasonal volume forecasts for some of the rivers in Wyoming are approaching record levels, with some over 200 percent of average. Zukiewicz said water users should anticipate above average flows for some time on the Bighorn River.

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found here after the 5th business day of the month:http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

May 1, 2017 Snow Water Equivalent

River Basin Percent of Normal Percent of Last Year
Columbia River Basin 119 163
 – Kootenai in Montana 121 178
 – Flathead in Montana 125 169
 – Upper Clark Fork 109 140
 – Bitterroot 122 174
 – Lower Clark Fork 124 185
Missouri River Basin 108 144
 – Jefferson 113 135
 – Madison 119 149
 – Gallatin 110 124
 – Headwaters Mainstem 90 130
 – Smith-Judith-Musselshell 83 94
 – Sun-Teton-Marias 129 379
 – St. Mary-Milk 124 200
Yellowstone River Basin 157 174
 – Upper Yellowstone 137 180
 – Lower Yellowstone 172 174
West of the Divide 119 163
East of the Divide 133 166
Montana Statewide 118 159

May 1, 2017 Precipitation

River Basin Monthly Percent of Average Water Year Percent of Average Water Year Percent of Last Year
Columbia River Basin 124 130 129
 – Kootenai in Montana 142 141 128
 – Flathead in Montana 146 136 135
 – Upper Clark Fork 105 113 119
 – Bitterroot 98 117 122
 – Lower Clark Fork 123 136 135
Missouri River Basin 126 128 125
 – Jefferson 120 119 119
 – Madison 142 141 147
 – Gallatin 154 132 127
 – Headwaters-Mainstem 97 110 110
 – Smith-Judith-Musselshell 119 110 108
 – Sun-Teton-Marias 95 125 151
 – St. Mary-Milk 105 149 123
Yellowstone River Basin 168 153 150
 – Upper Yellowstone 140 145 154
 – Lower Yellowstone 181 161 152
West of the Divide 124 130 129
East of the Divide 137 137 138
Montana Statewide 130 132 131

May-July 50% Exceedance Forecasts

River Basin Highest Point Forecast* Lowest Point Forecast** Basin Avg Forecast***
Columbia 152% 102% 126%
Kootenai, Montana 145% 124% 131%
Flathead, Montana 152% 117% 135%
Upper Clark Fork 136% 102% 125%
Bitterroot 117% 108% 112%
Lower Clark Fork 130% 119% 125%
Missouri 125% 78% 109%
Jefferson 125% 92% 109%
Madison 116% 111% 114%
Gallatin 108% 101% 105%
Headwaters Mainstem 113% 108% 111%
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 94% 78% 86%
Sun-Teton-Marias 119% 93% 112%
St. Mary 125% 124% 124%
Yellowstone River Basin 244% 94% 153%
Upper Yellowstone 167% 94% 134%
Lower Yellowstone 244% 125% 172%

Note: Streamflow forecasts are issued for multiple points on rivers and streams within a major river basin and are given as a range of exceedance probabilities. Consult the individual river basin of interest to see the range of values for streams of interest.

*Highest point forecast is the highest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

**Lowest point forecast is the lowest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

***Basin average forecast is an average of all 50% forecasts within the basin.

From: Natural Resources Conservation Service

NRCS Sets Program Funding Application Cutoff for June 2

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has set a June 1, 2017, application cutoff for agricultural operators to be considered for 2018 conservation program funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

NRCS provides funding and technical assistance to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that provide environmental benefits to help sustain agricultural operations. Conservation program participation is voluntary and helps private landowners and operators defray the costs of installing conservation practices.

NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for 2018 funding consideration must be submitted by June 2, 2017. Applications made after the June 2 cutoff will be considered in the next funding cycle. Additional information is available on the Montana NRCS website at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov under the Programs tab or you can contact your local NRCS service center.

Snowy February Improves Snowpack in Montana and Streamflow Prospects for Spring

 BOZEMAN, Mont., March 7, 2017 – February brought a notable change to the weather patterns that were experienced during the month of January, according to snowpack data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Montana.

 

Record breaking snowfall for the month of February was experienced in northern and southern river basins of the state during the first two weeks of the month. Snow blanketed the Rocky Mountain Front at the beginning of the month, with low elevations and valleys receiving more than 3 feet of snow. Flattop Mountain SNOTEL (snow telemetry) site in Glacier National Park set a new record for February snowfall and received 12.5 inches of snow water during the month, well above the 30 year normal of 5.3 inches for February. Further south, Cooke City received copious amounts of snow, prompting the first ever “Extreme” avalanche warning for the area when Fisher Creek SNOTEL received 10.9 inches of snow water between Jan. 31 and Feb. 11. Statewide, 12 SNOTEL sites set new records for February totals, and six sites were second highest.

 

Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana, said all basins experienced substantial improvements over the month with many now at near to above normal for March 1, and most basins are also near to above last year at this time. “There are some sub-basins that remain below normal for this date due to the late onset of snowpack this year and sub-par November and January snowfall,” Zukiewicz said. “One major basin is still recovering from near record low early season snow; the Smith-Judith-Musselshell will be reliant on spring precipitation to make up ground before spring and summer runoff.”

 

February typically isn’t one of the “big” snow months for Montana, he said, but this year proved otherwise. As we make the transition into spring, precipitation is favored along and east of the Continental Divide.

 

“Near normal conditions on this date is great news, but there is still a month to a month and a half before snowpack generally peaks in the mountains of Montana,” Zukiewicz said. “The coming months and their weather patterns will play a critical role in the timing and magnitudes of water in the rivers this coming spring and summer.”

 

Streamflow forecasts across the state reflect the near to above normal snowpack in many basins, and above average water year-to-date (Since Oct 1, 2016) precipitation. Many forecast points are near to above average for many rivers and streams for the April – July time period, but some remain below average due to lack of seasonal snowpack in some central Montana basins. Detailed forecasts for 98 streams in Montana can be found in the March 1st, 2017 Water Supply Outlook Report.

 

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found here after the 5th business day of the month:http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

 

March 1, 2017, Snow Water Equivalent
River Basin % of Normal % Last Year
Columbia 96 107
Kootenai, Montana 97 113
Flathead, Montana 97 109
Upper Clark Fork 95 101
Bitterroot 99 105
Lower Clark Fork 98 117
Missouri 100 109
Jefferson 103 97
Madison 113 126
Gallatin 98 108
Headwaters Mainstem 100 97
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 77 73
Sun-Teton-Marias 115 185
St. Mary-Milk 98 151
Yellowstone River Basin 140 173
Upper Yellowstone 128 147
Lower Yellowstone 152 197
West of the Divide 96 107
East of the Divide 120 138
Montana State-Wide 102 113
March 1, 2017, Precipitation
River Basin Monthly % of Average Water Year % of Average Water Year % of Last Year
Columbia 190 120 118
Kootenai, Montana 215 130 114
Flathead, Montana 193 125 124
Upper Clark Fork 161 108 113
Bitterroot 166 106 108
Lower Clark Fork 209 124 123
Missouri 186 131 132
Jefferson 183 122 122
Madison 201 140 151
Gallatin 164 129 126
Headwaters Mainstem 173 117 119
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 158 114 108
Sun-Teton-Marias 220 123 154
St. Mary-Milk 222 159 145
Yellowstone River Basin 198 146 166
Upper Yellowstone 207 145 153
Lower Yellowstone 196 149 182
West of the Divide 190 120 118
East of the Divide 194 136 146
Montana State-Wide 189 128 128
April-July 50% Exceedance Forecasts
River Basin Highest Point Forecast* Lowest Point Forecast** Basin Avg Forecast***
Columbia 143% 93% 104%
Kootenai, Montana 107% 100% 105%
Flathead, Montana 143% 93% 110%
Upper Clark Fork 115% 100% 105%
Bitterroot 102% 94% 99%
Lower Clark Fork 108% 98% 103%
Missouri 129% 58% 102%
Jefferson 129% 82% 106%
Madison 122% 108% 115%
Gallatin 101% 91% 96%
Headwaters Mainstem 106% 100% 104%
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 89% 58% 74%
Sun-Teton-Marias 119% 85% 106%
St. Mary 113% 110% 111%
Yellowstone River Basin 199% 83% 118%
Upper Yellowstone 148% 83% 119%
Lower Yellowstone 199% 90% 118%

Note: Streamflow forecasts are issued for multiple points on rivers and streams within a major river basin and are given as a range of exceedance probabilities. Consult the individual river basin of interest to see the range of values for streams of interest.

*Highest point forecast is the highest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

**Lowest point forecast is the lowest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

***Basin average forecast is an average of all 50% forecasts within the basin.