Soil moisture sensors offer farmers timely information to help schedule irrigation, conserve water resources and improve overall production efficiency.
Those sensors can be expensive, but funds are available to qualified producers from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to offset some of the costs.
Southwest Farm Press asked NRCS Civil Engineer Keith Sides to explain what’s available through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
1. Do moisture sensors qualify for NRCS EQIP funding?
Yes. Soil moisture sensors do qualify as an approved component of the larger practice of Irrigation Water Management through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
2. If so, are funds on a cost-share basis? What ratio?
All of the practices in EQIP are on a flat-rate cost-share basis. There is not a specific percentage for financial assistance that is paid to the EQIP participant. The payment to the farmer is also based on the complexity of which Irrigation Water Management scenario is being applied in the conservation contract.
NRCS has different levels of management within the irrigation water management practice. If a producer chooses to go to the field and download the data from the sensor, there is one payment rate; if the producer chooses to have the information from the soil moisture sensor, upload the data to a company server, and then send to a handheld device each day, a different payment rate applies.
3.What criteria do producers have to meet to qualify?
As with all of the irrigation related practices in EQIP, each participant must meet two requirements. The first is that the field where the soil moisture sensor is planned has the required irrigation history. This means that the field has been certified as irrigated at Farm Services Agency (FSA) for two out of the last five years.
The second requirement is that the irrigation system has the required available water for the size of the irrigation system. This requirement differs across the nation. For most of the nation, the flow rate available to the irrigation system has to be sufficient to supply the crop’s peak consumptive use. This means that the irrigation system has to be able to supply the same amount of water that the crop will use during the time the crop uses the most water. This differs from most of Texas, where the minimum required available water has to be 3 gallons per minute per acre (3 gpm/ac).
This is a great addition to the NRCS EQIP payment schedule. These soil moisture sensors give the farmers a real-time view into their soil profile and help them make management decisions with regards to their irrigation practices.
It gives producers one more tool to help determine if they need to keep running their irrigation systems after a rainfall event, if they can wait another day or two before restarting them after a rainfall event, or shut off their systems at the end of the season and save one more circle with the center pivot or a few days with a micro-irrigation system. All of these management decisions help the farmer conserve water.
4. How do producers apply for EQIP funds?
Contact your local county NRCS district conservationist and/or local NRCS representative in the USDA Service Center and the NRCS webpage for Environmental Quality Incentives Program | NRCS Texas (usda.gov)
Irrigation Water Management series:
- Part 1: TAWC, on-farm projects test water management tech
- Part 2: Water management technology: Is it a fit?
- Part 3: Technology improves irrigation efficiency (producer feature and photo gallery)