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NRCS programs improve efficiency on ranch


For the Capital Press

NRCS program helps ranch save water and produce more and better alfalfa.

Installing underground irrigation pipes and isolation valves can help reduce leaks caused by exposure and increase water efficiency, said cattle rancher John Prock of Midland, Ore.

He increased production on his family’s 1,200-acre property with a series of cost-sharing programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

When the Procks purchased the property in 2006, the irrigation piping was above ground and leaked. None of the irrigation piping was fitted with valves, and just one pump pushed water through the entire system. In addition, irrigation wheel lines were spaced one per 40 to 60 acres, he said.

“It’d take all day long to fire the system up, and once you were going, you were going unless something broke,” he said. “Now if something breaks, I can just shut a valve.”

With the help of the NRCS programs, Prock was able to move his irrigation piping underground and coupling joints were placed at 50-foot intervals. The underground pipe immediately minimized gasket leaks, and the new risers mean Prock only has to move the wheel lines six rolls at a time, he said.

The NRCS programs also helped pay for flow meters, additional pumps and soil sampling. Irrigation improvements were made through the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program, which David Ferguson, Klamath Falls NRCS manager, said is no longer available. But an energy audit through Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps pay for cost-saving energy measures, may be able to be linked to consumption services like water. The energy program is available under the current Farm Bill, Ferguson said.

Prock said it used to take 12 to 14 days to irrigate a field. Now, with the new risers and only 1 wheel line per 20 acres, it only takes six days. Since the improvements, the ground stays more hydrated and his alfalfa grows faster.

“In the long run you don’t have to use as much water and the crop is coming back faster and better, so you’re getting more productivity,” Prock said.

A New Holland H8040 self-propelled windrower, purchased separate from the NRCS program, with a wide conditioner also increased Prock’s efficiency. He said the machine lays the hay out in a wider swath, and it dries and gets baled faster. That allowed him to get water back on the field quicker and gained him about three days per field.

“It used take seven to eight days, now I can almost get it in five. It actually gained us an extra cutting,” he said.

Previously, Prock harvested three cuttings from an alfalfa field. Now he gets four cuttings, and his product has improved substantially.

“A lot of his objectives have been met. They are using up to 30 percent less water and we helped figure out where the weak spots are,” Ferguson said.

According to Ferguson, the goal of NRCS programs is to improve farm operations to meet society’s demand on resources.

“It’s the key thing; everybody wants more water,” he said.

The first step is meeting with NRCS to find out which options are available for your farm and determine if they are in line with the farm objectives, Ferguson said. He suggested having property maps and any relevant property or asset statements available for review.


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