USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Farm Bill conservation programs will invest approximately $11.8 million in 2010 for contracts with California dairy and other livestock farmers to implement conservation practices that will help them comply with regulations, manage and use the manure from their animals to fertilize their crops and improve water quality.

"Manure that is applied in proper concentration and at the proper time is taken up and used by crops," said Ed Burton, State Conservationist for NRCS California State Office. "Nitrogen and other nutrients can be put to work so they cannot wash or percolate into water and become pollutants."

The $11.8 million is made available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). EQIP contracts are made directly with agricultural producers while AWEP and CCPI rely on industry and conservation groups to play a coordinating role to accomplish water quality and other conservation goals.

NRCS has had a focused effort to work with dairy operators for the past five years as the industry focuses on improving nutrient efficiency and complying with increasingly strict regulations.

"The dairy industry has been very responsive in working with us to develop and implement plans that take advantage of natural fertilizer occurring in livestock manure and developing structures and management techniques to keep it away from water sources," added Burton. In the past five years, NRCS has targeted roughly $47 million towards addressing the issue. Typically, producers put up half the cost of conservation projects, meaning the total NRCS-Industry investment approaches $100 million.

"California Dairy farmers take conservation seriously," concluded Burton. "They voluntarily employ methods that preserve natural resources and help their communities, such as managing nutrients, conserving water, and reducing fuel use. They know that the success and profitability of a dairy farm depends upon healthy land, water, and air."

NRCS is working closely with Western United Dairymen and other industry and conservation groups, the UC Cooperative Extension Service and others to bring information, training and financial assistance to dairy operators.

The work with dairy operators is part of a much larger EQIP-AWEP-CCPI effort throughout California that is expected to provide over $70 million for conservation on farms, ranches and other private property in 2010.

Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service