Southwest ranchers and landowners who lost grazing from recent wildfires should get to their local USDA service centers as soon as possible to sign up for assistance.
The Agriculture Act of 2014 provides financial assistance for some losses through the Livestock indemnity Program. Also the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) has funds available to help in grazing recovery efforts.
The livestock indemnity program is authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) to provide benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather or disasters.
“We have $2 million available in Texas through EQIP to provide assistance to install measures that reduce post-fire damage and aid in the rehabilitation process,” says Stan Bradbury, NRCS rangeland management specialist in Lubbock, Texas. “But land owners need to come in soon. Deadline for filing applications is April 21.”
EQIP assistance offers producers payments for prescribed grazing with deferment up to two years, cross fencing, livestock water, and critical treatment areas.
The first year following wildfire losses is a critical one, Bradbury says. “We need to give the grass a period of rest. Many of these grasses evolved under fire and are adapted to fire, but recovery is different under drought situations. When we get rain is a big factor.”
The EQIP program would offer payment to producers who defer grazing until Oct. 31 of this year, with an additional partial deferment from May 1 through July 31 next year or a full deferment in 2018 from May 1 through Oct. 31.
Bradbury says rangeland recovery will depend on rainfall. “When and how much makes a difference,” he says. “Hard rains are not ideal, and we prefer slow, rains that seep into the soil, but we will take what we can get.’
He says deferred grazing is important to allow grasses to recover and develop strong root systems. “We like to see grass go through a complete life cycle,” he explains, “from regrowth to producing seed heads. We have to start over and grow the plant. That could take six months or 45 days if we get rain soon.”
Bradbury says rate of recovery also depends on how vigorous the plant was before it was burned. Drought stress, which was a factor in the Texas Panhandle, makes the plant more vulnerable to more severe damage. Overgrazing, he says, also may limit rate of recovery or ability to recover. “Rangeland management before the fire will be a factor,” he says. “If the grass was in good condition, with a lot of vegetation and strong root systems, it will come back. Also, most of the woody plants in Panhandle rangelands (such as sand shinnery or shin oak) are well adapted to survive fire. Most of the brush species are re-sprouters.”
Reseeding rangeland probably will not be necessary in most cases. “Many ranchers may fear that vegetation will not return unless it is re-seeded. In most cases native plants that evolved with fire are still alive. They can recover with good management.”
It’s happened before. “Texas suffered its largest wildfire in 2006 and all of the ranches have made an impressive recovery,” Bradbury says.
“Factors that affect recovery time include types of plants and their adaption to fire, fire intensity, precipitation (before and after the fire), soil type, previous history of grazing and fire, presence of weeds (competition), season of fire, and management after the fire.”
He says burned vegetation still offers some protection against soil erosion from plant parts and roots that remain on the land. “Erosion could occur in areas where active erosion occurred prior to the wildfire, on very steep slopes, in very sandy soils, and along drainages until the vegetation recovers.”
Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have coordinated assistance to producers affected by the recent wildfires and have prioritized recovery practices. “All three states are going to allow 75 percent payment rate,” he adds.
Once all applications have been ranked and scored, funding will be awarded to those with the highest ranking.
For more details, producers should contact their local FSA office. To find a local FSA county office, http://bit.ly/2napviL .