By Harriet Behar
During a trip to the Farm Service Agency a couple of years ago, Jesse Schwarz happened to see a notice on the wall about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). He learned that along with dollars to make improvements, the program offered the help of various Natural Resources Conservation Program personnel, including grazing specialist Jean Stramel. These staff could provide technical assistance to design a rotational grazing system that would be good for his land, good for his animals and make his own life a lot easier and rewarding.
At the time, Jesse was pasturing his herd in three permanent pastures that did not provide the high quality forage he wanted. He was spending almost 4 hours a day messing around with fences to simulate rotational grazing, but his system just wasn’t working. He invited Jean to come out to the farm, and together they developed a plan to take 60 acres of land that had been cropped fields and turn it into 30 grazing paddocks.
He was able through the EQIP Program to complete his plan. Now his 100-cow herd can move around the farm for a whole month before returning to a paddock. Jesse claims that the improvement over his previous system “is just awesome!” The paddock sizes were planned so the cattle have enough to eat, but not too much. This prevents them from picking around and taking just some of the forage, so they eat it down evenly. Jesse is getting much more feed out of his pastures now. Things would have been a lot worse during this droughty summer if he had not had this system in place, he said. This December the young stock were still out on the pastures, allowing him to feed much less from his stored feeds than he had in the past at this time of year.
Not only did numerous NRCS personnel provide free technical assistance for planning the rotational grazing system, Jesse also applied for and received cost-share funds under the EQIP Organic Initiative. He used the funds for “built to last” perimeter and interior cedar post high-tensile fences.
The NRCS also designed and cost-shared a 1250-foot cow lane that services the paddocks, sloped just right so muddy cows will be a thing of the past.
A 4000-foot water line was also paid for by EQIP, on top of the ground under the fence where the cattle can’t trample it. Wherever there are paddock gates, the hose is buried. The hose is blown out for winter, and just stays in place. Jesse has two 54-gallon tanks with floats that he can move with his 4-wheeler, and reconnect with a 50-foot hose to one of the water couplers installed throughout the line. The system is well designed and easy to manage, and makes Jesse feel that he can “farm organically there forever.”
Jesse found his NRCS office to be appreciative and understanding of organic. Having the government share the cost of his farm’s improvements benefited more than just his farm. By protecting his land from soil erosion, keeping the ground water and surface waters clean, the improvements contribute to a healthy environment for all to enjoy. Jesse has a well-functioning farm, which also contributes to a healthy regional farming economy.
There are still some issues on the farm that Jesse may look to the NRCS to help him with, including manure handling and storage. Who knows, maybe a composting facility is in his future. Jesse recommends talking to your NRCS local office, and adds “if you are lucky enough to have your application approved, you will be very happy!”
Harriet Behar is a MOSES organic specialist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.