Clean Water Farms Project Overview
For well-over a decade, U.S. EPA 319 funds through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) gave KRC the opportunity to offer farmers and ranchers financial assistance and outreach/education to adopt sustainable farming practices that protect water quality.
Between 1995-2012, KRC ‘s Clean Water Farms Project provided $590,000 in cost-share dollars to farmers and ranchers to implement practices to protect water quality and farmers — long before some of those practices were commonly accepted.
In 2000, the project developed a whole farm planning tool, the River Friendly Farm Environmental Assessment (RFFP), as a way to help farmers and ranchers identify problems and needed management changes and how to implement changes on their farms. Over the course of the project, over 300 Kansas farmers completed whole farm plans.
Use of the tool assumed a systems approach to farming. Not one BMP at a time, or one issue at a time, but an approach that looked at the cropping system, the grazing and pasture and livestock operation, the wildlife habitat on the farm, the water resources– as well as the human resources. Then it helped the farmer or landowner identify solutions or improvements, develop a plan and timeline, and linked the farmer to financial and technical resources to achieve that plan.
KRC administered 150 cost-share projects (capped at $5,000 per farm) that between 2000-2010 leveraged over $400,000 in state and federal cost share. Also, a KRC survey of program participants as the program came to an end, indicated that most participants adopted additional practices beyond their KRC funded project– most often at their own expense.
Farmers (and KRC) contributed nearly $3 million of their own money toward those and additional projects. Many of the farmers and ranchers KRC worked with, for one reason or another, did not participate in state or federal conservation programs – too much red tape, or they were simply not eligible for the program, or too much time spent waiting for approval.
During the project, outreach and education was a strong component. KRC conducted over 90 farm tours, 145 workshops, and over 260 presentations on farming and sustainable farming practices reaching thousands of people.
In about 2008, the project began shifting to the state’s Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) framework established by KDHE, where attention focused more on individual Best Management Practices (BMP’s) as the primary means to achieving TMDL’s (total maximum daily load) standards in subwatersheds with specific problems and high ranked target areas. By 2012, administration cost-share for BMP’s shifted to individual WRAPS watersheds based on extensive watershed plans to meet TMDL’s and address water quality problems in high ranked problem areas.
KRC’s RFFP assessment tool is still available on KRC’s website at http://www.kansas ruralcenter.org/publications/RFFP.pdf. It is a bit dated, but can still be helpful.
KRC currently does not have funding for a project supporting demonstrations or assistance with whole farm planning, but hundreds of farmers and ranchers benefitted from the project. Several other groups have taken on related work (i.e. Ks. Grazing Lands Coalition and Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, and numerous farmer based soil health networks.)
This article and the CWFP Overview include content from KRC’s Clean Water Farms Project and was adapted and updated in 2018 by Jennifer Kongs & Mary Fund as part of the KRC’s 40th Anniversary reflections.