Excess rainfall, which Nebraska has had its share of, as well as a little bit of slope in a farm field can mean erosion challenges every year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture chose Nebraska as one of five states to take part in a pilot program to address that erosion caused by “ephemeral gullies.” Conor Ward, Environmental Quality Incentives Program manager, offers a definition of an ephemeral gully.
“An ephemeral gully is basically active erosion that typically occurs on a yearly basis,” he said. “It’s anything that a farmer can disc shut year-to-year. As the name says, it’s a small gully that appears every year in a farm field.”
The pilot program has dollars set aside to help farmers deal with those challenges. In order for a farmer to be eligible for a program payment from EQIP or other conservation programs that are tied to the farm bill, they have to be in compliance with program requirements on dealing with erosion.
“If they’re farming highly erodible land, they have to maintain a certain amount of residue on those fields,” Ward said. “That residue prevents active erosion from happening. The program requirements have become stricter since 2017 because they have to maintain those smaller ephemeral gullies now to stay in compliance.”
Natural Resources Conservation officials will go out to inspect acres enrolled in the program and look to see if there are any erosion problems. If a farmer happens to have erosion issues, Ward said his office will work with the farmers to update their conservation plan. Officials then go back to the field the following year to see if the erosion challenges have been taken care of.
“The pilot program through USDA is designed to help farmers take care of those erosion problems,” Ward said. “The goal of the program is to help the farmer get back in compliance with his or her conservation plan.
“Technically, farmers don’t have to wait for a compliance review to come in and sign up for the pilot program. It’s open to anyone that has erosion challenges in their field. However, the funding priority is those farmers who have an ongoing review and need help getting back into compliance.”
Ephemeral gullies and other types of erosion can show up anywhere in farm fields. Ward said it could be anywhere, either on the edge or somewhere in the middle.
“It just takes a little slope and some excess water,” he said. “There are what we call structural practices or vegetative practices that we use to help combat the erosion.
“Depending on how bad the runoff is and the slope, a cover crop would keep a good root base in that field after harvest has wrapped up, and help in the spring when rains typically come. A grass waterway could work to help control the erosion. It could be possible to seed the gully down with native grasses or even perennial grasses.”
But what if the gully is bigger and can’t be shut down by a disc?
“Then you’re getting into structural practices like terracing and sediment control basins,” he said. “Gullies that big can’t be crossed by any kind of tractor. We have some tools in the NRCS office to decide if cover crops or grasses will control erosion, or if we’d have to move on to structural practices.”
Obviously, the bigger the gully, the more expensive the project will be to fix the erosion problem. Ward said there’s a cost-share component to the pilot program to make things easier on farmers. It doesn’t matter if the gully needs vegetative or structural practices in order to fix the problem, either.
The pilot program has $2 million available for farmers in Nebraska through the pilot project. The application cutoff date is Friday, July 19. The complete list of conservation practices that the pilot project will fund includes cover crops, crop rotations, no-till, contour farming, buffer strips, terraces, waterways, and others. Check with the nearest NRCS office more details.
“Applications received will be ranked,” Ward said. “Cost estimates are put in for each project and then, based on how much funding we have, we go on down the list to fund the projects. Again, priority funding is given to applicants with land selected for conservation compliance reviews over the previous two years and received variances to address the erosion challenge.”
Chad Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.