NRCS Sets Program Funding Application Cutoff for June 1

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has set a June 1, 2018, application cutoff for agricultural operators to be considered for 2019 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 landowners and operators defray the costs of installing conservation practices.

NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for 2019 funding consideration must be submitted by June 1, 2018. Applications made after the June 1 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.

NRCS Accepting Applications for Upper Clark Fork Drought Resiliency Project

From NRCS: Agricultural producers in Montana’s Upper Clark Fork River Watershed area have until May 18, 2018, to apply for financial assistance for conservation practices funded through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

In February 2016, a proposal submitted by the Watershed Restoration Coalition was accepted by NRCS to be funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The program will provide funding for partnership projects between public (Federal and State) and private entities and nongovernmental organizations.

The Upper Clark Fork project makes available a special five-year funding pool that NRCS will use to fund projects in the Upper Clark Fork watershed area. This is the second year funding is being made available and NRCS anticipates funding projects each year for the duration of the project agreement.

The RCPP project sign-up period will focus on projects that will address water conservation, irrigation water management, fish passage and fisheries habitat resource issues.

To apply for financial assistance, visit the NRCS field office located at 1002 Hollenback Road in Deer Lodge. For additional information, contact Glen Green, NRCS District Conservationist, at (406) 415-4040 or 415-4046.

Snowpack Still on the Rise, Well Above Average, and Setting Records in Some Parts of Montana

From NRCS:

Unlike February, snowfall wasn’t record-breaking in Montana during March, but it was sufficient to keep the snowpack near to well above normal on April 1, according to snow survey data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “One thing is for sure; it’s been a snowy winter across the state of Montana,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana, “and there’s still more to come.”

Last month, records were set for both monthly totals for February snowfall, and for total snowpack accumulation on March 1. Many snowpack measuring locations that feed Montana’s rivers and streams remain record high for April 1. Ten SNOwpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) and snowcourse locations remain the highest on record for this date, and 12 measurement locations are the second highest on record. These sites can be found in the mountains that feed the Upper Yellowstone River, Upper Clark Fork and Missouri Mainstem River basins, where snowfall has been abundant throughout the winter months. “Although not record-setting like these regions, the snowpack in other river basins across the state is well above normal for this time of year,” Zukiewicz said.

2018 is looking to go down as one of the biggest snow years on record for some parts of the state, prompting questions on how it compares to other memorable snowpack years. “1972, 1997, 2011 and 2014 were all big winters across the state, and many are wondering how this year compares,” Zukiewicz said. “So far, the only snowpack that has topped all other water years for peak snow water contained in the snowpack is the area near Cooke City which feeds the Clark’s Fork River of the Yellowstone River.”

For the most part, the snowpack in the rest of the state hasn’t reached the levels of 1997, 2011 and 2014. “During those years, snowpack peaked at the beginning of May to early June. For now, it looks like there is still a lot of winter left to come and this year could break more records if it keeps going.” Zukiewicz said.

Long-range predictions by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center continue to forecast above average precipitation and below average temperatures through the end of April.

Due to the abundant snowfall, many measurement locations have already reached, or exceeded, the normal amount of snow water that is typically contained in the snowpack before runoff occurs, all but assuring at least normal surface water supply this spring and summer, Zukiewicz said. Long-duration volumetric streamflow forecasts issued for the April 1 – July 31 period are well above average for most stream gages in the state, and could approach record levels this spring and summer at the stream gage at Belfry, Mont., located along Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone.

“Having a big snowpack is a double-edged sword,” Zukiewicz said. “You know there will be plenty of snowpack to feed the rivers, which is typically great news, but the uncertainty of how and when it will come out can keep you up at night.”

The coming month will be critical in determining how much water is available in the snowpack for runoff this spring, and the day-to-day and week-by-week weather patterns during May and June will determine the timing and volumes of water in Montana. Water users are encouraged to read the May 1, 2018, NRCS Water Supply Outlook Report, which will summarize the conditions that occurred over the month of April, and help water users prepare for runoff this spring and summer.

Individual point forecasts for streams and rivers can be found in the monthly NRCS Water Supply Outlook Report and should be consulted as conditions vary from basin to basin, and even within the basins themselves.

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found at the website below after the 5th business day of the month:

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

April 1, 2018, Snow Water Equivalent

River Basin % of Normal % Last Year
Columbia 137 134
Kootenai, Montana 128 122
Flathead, Montana 136 130
Upper Clark Fork 156 170
Bitterroot 134 128
Lower Clark Fork 124 117
Missouri 133 145
Jefferson 135 134
Madison 124 118
Gallatin 130 148
Headwaters Mainstem 169 190
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 130 186
Sun-Teton-Marias 142 122
St. Mary-Milk 140 149
Yellowstone River Basin 135 102
Upper Yellowstone 152 128
Lower Yellowstone 121 85
West of the Divide 137 134
East of the Divide 133 119
Montana State-Wide 137 137

April 1, 2018, Precipitation

River Basin Monthly % of Average Water Year % of Average Water Year % of Last Year
Columbia 93 123 95
Kootenai, Montana 93 113 81
Flathead, Montana 101 129 96
Upper Clark Fork 103 130 114
Bitterroot 99 119 100
Lower Clark Fork 69 115 85
Missouri 111 119 95
Jefferson 117 111 93
Madison 121 113 82
Gallatin 113 124 98
Headwaters Mainstem 111 137 120
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 90 117 111
Sun-Teton-Marias 90 136 104
St. Mary-Milk 107 130 88
Yellowstone River Basin 98 122 83
Upper Yellowstone 99 138 95
Lower Yellowstone 98 108 72
West of the Divide 93 123 95
East of the Divide 103 121 89
Montana State-Wide 102 124 95

April-July 50% Exceedance Forecasts

River Basin Highest Point Forecast* Lowest Point Forecast** Basin Average Forecast***
Columbia 231% 107% 134%
Kootenai, Montana 124% 110% 118%
Flathead, Montana 158% 112% 131%
Upper Clark Fork 231% 148% 170%
Bitterroot 128% 113% 121%
Lower Clark Fork 144% 107% 130%
Missouri 174% 95% 125%
Jefferson 161% 95% 126%
Madison 114% 111% 113%
Gallatin 123% 115% 120%
Headwaters Mainstem 135% 128% 132%
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 174% 117% 141%
Sun-Teton-Marias 141% 99% 123%
St. Mary 123% 119% 121%
Yellowstone River Basin 194% 83% 133%
Upper Yellowstone 194% 97% 147%
Lower Yellowstone 159% 83% 119%

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.

USDA Offers Renewal Options for Expiring Conservation Stewardship Contracts

Agricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to renew their Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract.

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.

Participants with existing CSP contracts expiring on Dec. 31, 2018, can access the benefits of the recent program changes through an option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their lands.

NRCS will mail contract renewal notification letters to all participants whose contracts expire in 2018, which will contain instructions on how to apply for renewal.

Applications to renew expiring contracts are due by April 13.

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 the 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

Current Snowpack and Coming Spring Weather Critical to Summer Water Supplies

Snowfall in some locations of Montana has been record-breaking during February, resulting in snowpack totals for March 1st that are well above normal for most river basins, according to snow survey data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Twenty-five SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) stations and manual measurement locations set new records for February totals, and 21 measurements at other locations were the second highest on record.

“Abundant mountain, valley and plains snowfall this winter have Montana under a blanket of snow at the beginning of March,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana. “While this is great news for long-term water supply, it’s been hard on a lot of families and businesses in the plains.”

Snowpack totals are above normal in all major river basins of the state of Montana for March 1, and some measurement locations are setting records for this date. Fifteen snowpack measurement locations have set a new record for March 1, and 12 are the second highest on record. Most of these records are being set in the headwaters of the Upper Clark Fork, mountains of the Missouri Mainstem around Helena and in the headwaters of the Upper Yellowstone and Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River basins. While not record-setting, most other river basins have seen consistent and above normal moisture this winter due to the favorable La Nina weather patterns this winter. Many snowpack measurement locations have already reached the normal “peak,” or maximum amount of snow water contained in the snowpack, on March 1st. Zukiewicz said only one area seems to be left out of this year, the Centennial range which serves as the headwaters for the Red Rock River in southwestern Montana. It has a snowpack that remains below normal for this date.

“As we approach spring, water users across the state start to plan for the coming growing season, water supply and allocations from spring runoff of the mountain snowpack,” Zukiewicz said. “This year looks to deliver above average flows in the rivers in most locations due to the deep mountain snowpack.”

On March 1, the NRCS Montana Snow Survey began to issue forecasts for the spring and summer runoff with many locations forecasted to be above to well above average. Some forecasted volumes for rivers in south-central Montana for the April 1 through July 31 period are approaching records. “The median forecast for the Clark’s Fork at Belfry, Mont., is above the record for that location,” Zukiewicz said. “There’s going to be a lot of water coming out of the Beartooth Range this spring and summer.”

While spring is always critical to the timing and volume of water supply, Zukiewicz said he will keep a close eye on the week-to-week weather patterns over the next few months. Climatologically, the months of March through May are some of the most significant months with regards to precipitation for river basins east of the Divide, and many basins already have an above-normal snowpack. Any continued snowfall will build on the above normal snowpack and will further increase the amount of water available for runoff.

“At this point, we have pretty close to assured adequate water supply in many areas due to heavy early season snowfall,” Zukiewicz said. “As much as it pains me to say it, a normal month or two would be the best case scenario from here on out.” The NRCS Montana Snow Survey will issue the next snowpack report and updated water supply forecasts for the state on April 1, 2018. “By then we should have a good idea if this pattern is going to break or keep going.”

Individual point forecasts for streams and rivers can be found in the monthly NRCS Water Supply Outlook Report and should be consulted as conditions vary from basin to basin, and even within the basins themselves.

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

Source: NRCS

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.