The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has been informed that the Tennessee’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has recently received $778,044 in additional funding to help crop and livestock producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Producers in areas designated as either D3 Drought, Extreme or D4 Drought exceptional on the recent July 2012 U.S. Drought Monitor maps for Tennessee are eligible to apply for selected conservation practices. These areas include Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Haywood, Henry, Houston, Humphreys, Lake, Lauderdale, Montgomery, Obion, Shelby, Stewart, Tipton, and Weakley counties.
Producers can utilize these funds to improve the drought resistance of their forage base by using one of several plantings of native warm season grasses. Native warm season grasses provide palatable and productive forage during the warm months and are typically targeted for 15 to 25 percent of a farm’s forage acreage, the remainder being in cool season grasses and legumes.
Research by the University of Tennessee has demonstrated summer average daily weight gains of steers of 2.0 to 2.8 pounds per day, significantly outperforming fescue while avoiding fescue toxicity problems. Low inputs on lime and fertilizer make native grasses economically competitive with bermudagrass, a non-native forage that has almost no wildlife value.
Including a native grass forage component on your farm can ensure a greater supply of forage during times of drought. Being deep-rooted, native warm season grasses usually continue to thrive during droughts while most other forages succumb and subsequently are replanted at a cost to the landowner and often taxpayers through USDA programs. Because native grass forages can help drought-proof livestock operations, offers including conversions to native grasses qualify for extra ranking points and increase an applicant’s chance of getting accepted for EQIP funding.
Landowners can also choose to plant a more diverse stand of native grasses in combination with wildflowers and forbs at reduced seeding rates specifically to benefit wildlife, particularly bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, turkeys and songbirds. Forage stands, particularly of the big bluestem-little bluestem-indiangrass mix, properly grazed, can also provide wildlife benefits.
More information on native grasses for forage and wildlife can be found through the Center for Native Grasslands Management at http://nativegrasses.utk.edu .
Applications for EQIP drought assistance funds can be made at the local USDA Service Center. Any landowners interested in getting a free wildlife management plan written can also contact a TWRA Private Lands Biologist. See www.twraprivatelands.org or call TWRA at 615 781-6610 for contact information.