On paper it looked good — Kansas State Conservation Commission allocates $500,000 for immediate drought assistance for Kansas livestock producers. In reality, it was barely a drop in the bucket for Marion County farmers and ranchers who needed help getting water to their animals.
More than 40 county producers beat a path over to the Natural Resources Conservation Services office in Marion and signed up for the state drought funding program, but only three individuals were selected for state funding.
On Monday, the Kansas Department of Agriculture notified Betty Richmond, district conservation secretary, that only one spring development project and three pond rebuilding projects were awarded $2,000 each in Marion County.
“It really makes me mad,” Richmond said. “It was a real hurry-up deal how they set that up at the state. Money was allocated by areas and we have 20 counties in our area. It was all on a first-come, first-serve basis, and we got very little.”
Producers who applied were eligible for $2,000 per project and $4,000 per landowner to dig wells, enlarge ponds, or develop springs to provide water for livestock. However, Richmond said the money went too fast and was dispersed unfairly.
“I don’t think they had any idea at the state level what the need really was,” she said. “The state office was overwhelmed and the planning was so hasty. It was done all wrong.”
Greg Foley, director of Division of Conservation with the Kansas Department of Agriculture said his office received more than 2,400 requests for drought assistance in just two weeks.
“The agency made available all the resources it could to begin providing assistance as immediate as possible,” he said.
The federal government is also working to address emergency drought needs through Conservation Reserve Program grazing and Environment Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding, but with 21 states eligible for allocations, Kansas producers may not be at the top of the list.
Regarding Kansas aid, Richmond said all counties should have been allocated an equal amount for drought relief, and then extra money could have been turned back to the state to spread in needier areas.
Instead, she was not able to pinpoint where the money went, just that there was very little left by the time Marion County came up on the list of notifications.
“They told us not every county was going to get aid,” Richmond said. “Last I heard Harvey County didn’t get any notifications of award.”
Ironically, Richmond said she was instructed by the state department of agriculture, which oversees the division of conservation in charge of drought funding relief, to continue to take applications for the non-awarding program.
“Will we ever get any more money? I don’t know,” Richmond said. “But if I keep taking applications we can at least prove we have a real need here. Maybe then we can go after some federal money.”
Chase County funded two projects for livestock water relief; Lyons County received enough money to fund five producers.
Richmond said no funding was available for Marion County producers through the state conservation commission but a federal project, EQIP, could provide assistance for drought relief.
Matt Meyerhoff, director of Natural Resources Conservation Services in Marion County, said he was taking applications for conservation plans that could help farmers and ranchers get water to their livestock. However, money for approved projects likely would not be available until next April.
“EQIP is funded 100 percent by tax dollars and is available for everybody,” he said. “Everything we do is free for the producer — advice on stocking rates, locating water sources, my opinion on how best to remedy water situations.”
Farmers and ranchers who sign up for EQIP must fill out an application by Nov. 15. Meyerhoff said applications would be ranked according to conservation priorities, reduced use of pesticides, energy saving measures, water reduction, etc. Selected projects could not start water relief efforts until funding was released to approved contracts in April.
“The drought is really hard on producers right now,” Meyerhoff said. “It’s hard to wait on programs to develop, but I am here to help in any way I can, to meet people and find a program that might work for them.”
On Aug. 29, Meyerhoff plans to meet with Marion County producers at the USDA service center in Marion to get local input on NRCS programs.