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California isn’t the only state grappling with drought

Photo credit: Takepart

Bales of hay sit on a family farm near Logan, Kansas. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

The Drought Is Bigger Than California: New Relief Money Will Go to 8 Dry States

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California isn’t the only state grappling with dry weather and a farming sector thirsty for more water.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced $21 million to support sustainable farming practices on Tuesday to help mitigate the impacts of the dry spell. In addition to California, which has been hogging the water-scarcity headlines ever since Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use reductions, seven states are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

USDA is making the funds available to farmers in those states: California, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. Funded through the 2014 farm bill, the new cash will go toward helping farmers invest in various water-conservation measures, including irrigation upgrades, watering facilities for livestock, changes in grazing systems, and more. In most cases, USDA will cover half of the required costs, with the farm’s owner making up the difference.

From a sustainability standpoint, two farming systems covered by the relief funding are most interesting: the introduction of cover crops and conversion to no-till practices, both of which help increase soil fertility and water retention.

Planting seeds in fields littered with the dead, decomposing remnants of last year’s crops—organic material that would otherwise be tilled under, hence “no-till”—has been on the rise over the past 15 years. In 2009, according to a USDA Economic Research Service report, 35.5 percent of farmland planted in the top eight crops grown in the U.S. were no-till operations. As the old plant material breaks down, it feeds the soil; the dry material covering what would otherwise be bare dirt keeps erosion down and, like mulch, helps the soil retain water.

Read the full article: Takepart

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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.