Since its founding nearly 90 years ago, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been committed to helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners help their land. The mission has grown and expanded in the nearly nine decades since, but the steadfast commitment to helping producers address resource concerns on their land has not wavered.

Cosby terry
Chief / Natural Resources Conservation Service / USDA

The NRCS, the USDA’s primary private lands conservation agency, supports producers by providing one-on-one, personalized assistance to help them address the specific needs of their operations through financial and free technical assistance. From the initial planning process to the implementation of conservation practices, the NRCS works directly with you, the producer, to tailor the project to help you accomplish your ecological, economic and management objectives.

The NRCS has numerous conservation programs available to help you implement the needed practices to address resource concerns on your land. Financial assistance is available through programs including the flagship Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which is typically the first step in a producer’s conservation journey, and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is designed to help producers take their existing conservation work to the next level. Many of the practices designed to address concerns on your grazing land are also climate-smart mitigation activities and are eligible for funding through the Inflation Reduction Act. Over the next several years, $19.5 billion has been made available as part of President Joe Biden's "Investing in America" agenda to help producers implement practices that yield climate mitigation benefits.

Getting started

Working with the NRCS is voluntary, and your local district conservationist from one of the NRCS’s more than 2,300 offices nationwide will be with you every step along the way. The first step to receiving assistance is making an appointment at your local USDA Service Center.

Service centers typically include staff from both the NRCS and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). If you have not previously visited a service center or used assistance from the USDA, a representative from the FSA can help you establish eligibility by creating a farm number for your land. Required paperwork can vary, but to establish initial eligibility you will need an official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID) and a property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property.


Working with your conservationist

Your next step after receiving a farm number is to meet with your local NRCS district conservationist who will work with you to identify your resource concerns and the programs and practices best suited to addressing your individual concerns. The NRCS uses a  nine-step conservation planning process to develop a unique plan tailored specifically to your needs and goals for your land.

The district conservationist works with you to determine your objectives for your land, inventory the existing resources and begin developing a plan to address your concerns. The goal of the plan is to provide actionable solutions unique to your situation, including the possible development of a grazing management plan with assistance from an NRCS expert.

The NRCS will then work with you to make decisions on how to implement the plan. The NRCS provides free technical assistance, including the development of a conservation plan, practice designs and resource assessments. The NRCS also provides financial assistance if you need help implementing the solutions identified during the planning process.

Your local district conservationist will help you identify the right program for your land, choose the correct practices to meet your needs and guide you through the application process. Applications for most of the NRCS’s programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they are ranked and funded during specific funding cycles. Your district conservationist can work with you to ensure you submit your application in a timely manner. Applications submitted outside of funding cycles are automatically considered during the next cycle. If your application is approved, you will then have the choice of whether to move forward or not. If you do, the NRCS will be with you every step of the way and will work with you to implement the practice(s) including design work, assistance with permits, surveys and other necessary steps.

Grazing management and more

For many livestock producers applying for financial assistance from the NRCS, the foundational conservation practice is prescribed grazing. Through this practice, the NRCS works with you to develop a grazing management plan to help you reach your production and conservation goals. This takes the initial planning process a step further and helps you identify your goals and objectives for your operation and to conduct a resource and forage inventory. You’ll also develop a grazing schedule and a contingency and monitoring plan. Having a grazing plan in place will help you maximize the performance and health of your herd and grazing land.

Once your grazing management plan has been developed, the NRCS has a wide variety of practices designed to help you address identified resource concerns. For instance, to help you address a lack of available forage, the pasture and hay planting practice provides financial and technical assistance before, during and after the planting process. The goal of the practice is to help you meet the health and nutritional needs of your animals, while also reducing erosion and improving soil health on your grazing lands for long-term sustainability. Experts help identify how much additional forage is needed and the correct species to provide maximum benefits to your animals while conserving your land. They’ll also help identify the correct process for planting seeds, when to plant them and how to manage the plantings to ensure their success.

Financial assistance is also available to help plan and construct fencing to help you implement rotational grazing, allow for proper rest and recovery of forages, or to keep animals out of sensitive areas. If invasive herbaceous or woody plants interfere with grazing on your lands, the NRCS can help you remove them through its brush management, herbaceous weed treatment or prescribed burning practices. These practices can all help address resource concerns, improve the health of your grazing lands and provide desirable forage to enhance your livestock performance.

If your concerns are related to your animals’ access to water, the NRCS can help you design and install watering facilities throughout your grazing lands to ensure your cattle have constant access to clean water. The facilities can have wide-ranging impacts beyond the health of your animals, both on and off the farm, by helping to improve the distribution of livestock and protect sensitive resources such as waterways and adjacent areas where animals previously accessed water. They can also improve the health of your pastures when paired with a rotational grazing plan and heavy-use area protection to reduce erosion from animals congregating around natural waterways and adjacent areas.

Each of these practices, and the many others available from the NRCS, can be tailored to meet the unique needs of your operation. No matter the program or practice you choose, the NRCS’s goal throughout the entire process – from planning to implementation – is to help address the specific conservation goals you have for your land, while improving the health of the land and your grazing animals. Reach out now to see how the NRCS can help you help your land.