Conservation program popular in the Panhandle
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 may receive financial and technical help to apply conservation practices on agricultural land. According to Kristin Miller, NRCS district conservationist serving Cheyenne, Deuel and Kimball counties, EQIP has been a very successful program in the southern Panhandle.
"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, forest land and wildlife habitat," Miller said.
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. A 2001 EQIP contract helped the Mathewsons reach that goal by installing livestock tanks, pipeline, and permanent electric fence. A grass seeding was also done to help improve the quality and quantity of grass.
The Mathewsons later made further rangeland improvements through EQIP in 2005 and 2007, which included installing two wells and additional livestock tanks and pipeline. EQIP provided up to 65 percent 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 period of rest when the cattle are not grazing. This rest period provides the plants an opportunity to recover from grazing, hoof action, and other stress from the cattle.
Despite being in a severe drought 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 years. 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."
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 this year, 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 said.
The Mathewsons are also participating in the Nebraska Grazing Land Coalition's Rangeland Monitoring Program. This program, funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and NRCS, 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, clipping frame and more, 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 will agree to share their knowledge and experience--and help the program grow--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 visit www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov/programs. For more information about the Rangeland Monitoring Program visit www.nebraskagrazinglands.org/.