Don't panic. Help is on the way. Farmers, ranchers, and landowners may qualify for financial and technical assistance for conservation projects through various state and federal government programs.

Link Deposit, for instance, provides low interest loans, typically below prime, to Texas farmers or ranchers who borrow money to purchase water conservation equipment for agricultural purposes or to perform other water-saving measures, such as terraces and grassed waterways.

“Typically, we see most of these loans for circle pivot and drip irrigation systems,” says Lee Devinny, with the Texas Agricultural Financial Authority (TAFAQ), a public authority within the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Devinny explains that Link Deposit is an interest reduction program that makes low-interest financing available to farmers, through their local bank, for qualifying conservation practices.

“The state deposits money with the bank and agrees to a low rate of return,” Devinny says. “The bank then passes the saving on to the farmer through reduced interest rates.”

Loan limit for Link Deposit funds is $250,000. “If a farmer borrows $500,000 for an irrigation system, he would get $250,000 from his bank at usual interest rates. The other $250,000 from Link Deposit would be at a reduced rate.”

No regional or county restrictions exist.

Other assistance is available through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Legislation passed last year, for instance, established the Soil and Water Conservation Assistance program, a voluntary effort for farmers and ranchers that provides cost share and incentive payments to address problems with soil, water and related natural resources.

Included are grazing, wetland and wildlife habitat improvements. The program is managed to help farmers and ranchers comply with federal and state environmental laws and to make beneficial and cost effective changes in cropping systems, grazing management, manure, nutrient, pest or irrigation management as well as land uses needed to conserve and improve soil, water and related natural resources.

Funds are available for qualified applicants outside areas covered by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The NRCS state conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee, approves eligible practices.

Funding limitation is $5,000 per year, per participant, for no more than 10 years. Total payment cannot exceed $50,000.

Federal share is set at 75 percent of the cost of an eligible practice and participants are paid when approved practices are certified as completed.

Participants may use “in-kind” contributions for cost share, including labor, equipment use, and on-hand or approved used materials.

The state conservationist along with the state Technical Committee selects projects.

EQIP was established in the Food Security Act of 1996 to provide technical, financial and educational assistance, primarily in designated priority areas, where significant natural resource problems exist.

The program is open to all landowners in priority areas and in some special cases outside those areas.

The program addresses soil erosion, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, wetlands and forest and grazing lands.

Contracts are required and run from five to 10 years. Total cost-share payments are limited to $10,000 per person per year, with a $50,000 maximum federal outlay.

For more information on these or other conservation programs contact:

TDA at 512-475-1614 for state programs. Or contact local NRCS, Farm Service Agency, and county Cooperative Extension office or conservation district for federal programs.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com