Ranchers in Central and South Texas suffering under a devastating drought have options from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS, for help.

The Grasslands Reserve Program offers ranchers an opportunity to collect funds for destocking rangeland for a year while they improve conservation practices on pastures.

“The area from Del Rio to Corsicana to Galveston is the most intensely drought stricken region in all of North America,” says Dan Gohmert, Texas state conservationist at Temple. “Drought is severe and has gotten worse in the past two years.’

Gohmert said producers got through last winter with hay and feed on hand and were considering cutting back on numbers. “But they got a little rain in the spring, grass started to come on and some folks who should have sold off, did not. Then it quit raining and ranchers were still feeding and started culling the bottom end of their herds.”

He said the Grassland Reserve Program will help them get through a rough period. A rancher may sign a contract for 10, 15 or 20 years and receive from $7 to $8 per acre during the contract period. After sign-up, they have 30 days to destock.

The program requires managers to discontinue grazing for one full year. “If the drought breaks we will tell producers they must have one full growing season for the Grassland Reserve. At first frost (after a year with no grazing) we will work with producers to revise their plan and allow a balanced grazing strategy.”

Producers who rework the contract and agree to maintain proper conservation grazing techniques still get their rental payments through the contract term. “It’s not a lot of money,” Gohmert says, “but it’s better than losing money. Producers have been feeding corn stalks and milo stubble to keep animals alive.”

He said participants in the GRP still qualify for the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) for brush control, cross fencing, pipelines and stock tank construction, among other conservation practices.

“We’ve used GRP to get funds in North Texas for destocking following wildfires. We also used GRP to help recovery after Hurricane Ike.” He said saltwater intrusion left many areas of grasslands, marshes and water sources toxic.

“This is not a disaster program,” Gohmert said. “Anyone in the state can sign up but we are giving priority to disaster areas. We want to help the worst first.”

He said NRCS is partnering with other local and state agencies to get the word out about GRP. “We’re getting a lot of interest and want to get folks excited about the program and to help get the word out.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com