Feeling Dry? Water Conservation Tips and Funding for Producers Facing Drought

July 5, 2023

The Reason Behind Water Crises

Climate change has altered weather patterns, leading to more extreme weather events. This has contributed to more frequent and severe drought in some areas of the country, causing water usage issues to abound.1

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Over the period from 2000 through 2020, roughly 20 to 70 percent of the U.S. land area experienced conditions that were at least abnormally dry at any given time.”2 Those drought conditions are a tough break for the agriculture sector.

With today’s increased frequency of wildfires, longer and more extreme drought seasons, it’s more important than ever that growers are aware of the funding available to them for drought response, improved irrigation systems, water efficiency and many other conservation practices. Producers can stay equipped by knowing where to turn for financial assistance and by adopting drought resilient practices that protect natural resources and make the best use of water supplies.

Federal Government Drought Relief, Recovery, and Support

Federal government and state agencies have drought relief and prevention programs for farmers and ranchers across the country. Finding the right program for you can be somewhat confusing, so here are a few programs to keep in mind.

But before we get started, here’s an important tip. If you’re planning to apply for funding for these programs, you’re going to need a farm number. Think of it as your farm’s social security number. FarmRaise makes applying for a farm number quick and easy. Check out our Premium Plan to get farm number help and many more farm finance services.

The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)

  • Offered through the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • Provides emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to revitalize land following natural disasters and implement emergency water conservation measures during periods of severe drought
  • Covers up to 75 percent of the cost to implement approved restoration practices, including access to emergency water during periods of severe drought
  • Covers up to 90 percent of the cost to implement approved restoration practices for limited resource, socially disadvantaged or beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Advance payment of up to 25 percent of the cost-share estimate is available, but only for the replacement or repair of damaged fencing
  • Apply by inquiring with your local FSA office

The Emergency Relief Program

  • Offered through the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • Provides emergency funding to farmers and ranchers who experienced losses due to drought or other extreme weather during the 2020 and 2021 seasons
  • Apply by inquiring with your local FSA office

Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP)

  • Offered through the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • Provides financial assistance to producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease and extreme or adverse weather, including drought
  • Offers assistance to producers in drought-stricken areas who have been forced to transport their livestock to different land in order to combat higher feed costs or reduced feed and grazing availability
  • The USDA-FSA has made an online tool to help ranchers document and estimate payments
  • Apply by inquiring with your local FSA office

The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program

  • Administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • Provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops to protect against natural disasters that lead to reduced or threatened crop production
  • Your farm’s average adjusted gross income (AGI) cannot exceed $900,000 to be eligible for NAP payments
  • Apply by inquiring with your local FSA office

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)

  • Administered by the Small Business Administration
  • Up to $2 million available for an applicant
  • Provides the working capital to help small businesses impacted by a disaster - including drought - survive until normal operations resume
  • Available only to small businesses that are unable to obtain credit elsewhere
  • Apply online at the SBA

The WaterSMART Program 

  • Administered by the Bureau of Reclamation
  • Take a proactive approach, preparing producers before disaster hits rather than after
  • Helps farmers develop or update their drought plans that best use their water resources and builds long-term resiliency to drought
  • You can contact the national program lead or find the contact in your region. You can also join the mailing list for program updates

State Agency Assistance

Your state or island may have drought relief assistance available, too. Be sure to check with your local state department of agriculture or department of conservation for options.

Register with the FSA

Remember, you can prepare yourself to more efficiently take advantage of the above federal relief programs by registering your farm with your local USDA service center. Maintaining active farm records and participating in Farm Service Agency (FSA) insurance programs can help you get alerted more quickly about emergency assistance, and this can also provide you with more expedited application processing when emergencies strike.

Water Management and Drought Resilience Tips

Emergency relief programs are intended to help you survive when emergencies - like drought - strike. But you can also make your farm or ranch more resilient proactively, so that the impact of drought is less immediate and extreme. Here are some tips for how to proactively invest in drought resilience on your operation.

Invest in climate-smart practices

Regenerative and climate smart agricultural practices can mitigate the effects of of drought through improving soil health, irrigation efficiency and water storage. Consider researching the best climate-smart agriculture opportunities for your farm or ranch, and then experiment by incorporating one at a time on different fields to see what works

If you’re a livestock producer, consider rotations and forage species that make your pastures more resilient to drought conditions

Apply for cost-share to implement conservation

Once you’ve established the climate smart practices that you want to try, apply for financial assistance to de-risk the cost of adopting the practices. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) dedicates funding for agricultural producers to improve their water systems, water use and adopt many other conservation practices.

One NRCS program worth considering is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP will cover up to 75 percent of the cost of certain practices or structures to help make your farm more climate smart.

Apply for EQIP by visiting with your local NRCS office or, if you’d like to save yourself some time, use FarmRaise to generate your application.

Adapt to dry-farming

As producer, you don’t have any control over the availability of groundwater or water in an aquifer. That’s why some agriculturalists are promoting dry farming as one answer to water concerns, especially in the west. Dry farming refers to the non-irrigated cultivation of crops.

Consider adopting dry farming on your farm, and plan in advance to change your crop rotations or livestock grazing cycles to better suit a limited water environment

Apply for on-farm research grants to find drought resilience techniques for your unique farm or ranch

Farmers and ranchers can get grants to do on-farm research experiments. The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program can grant you between $5,000 and $20,000 to conduct an on-farm research project. You can view previously awarded SARE grants pertaining to drought to get inspired.

Drought Tools

You can sign up to receive drought alerts when the U.S. Drought Monitor updates for your city or zip code. Sign up for alerts here.

It’s also a good idea to stay up to date about what’s happening in your state. For example:

  • California ensures additional drought funding is made available in the Inflation Reduction Act
  • Texas nonprofits pay farmers for water conservation
  • Kansas funds new water plan

The FarmRaise Briefing highlights stories like these, so make sure to create your free FarmRaise account so that you can receive the weekly Briefing.

When Disaster Strikes: Document Everything

Some of the federal assistance programs available to farmers and ranchers take a long time to process. But the help can be critical, even if it’s months or years down the line. To best prepare yourself to get your full financial assistance benefit, follow the below steps:

  • Before you start any repair work, document all damage with dated photographs and/or videos
  • Report the damage to local USDA Service Center as soon as possible in order to address the urgency of your situation
  • The county FSA office will provide guidance regarding next steps for approval of ECP funding
  • Often your reported damage will be subject to an onsite inspection
  • Track ALL of your expenses. If you want funding or reimbursement, this is key. That’s why we’ve created FarmRaise Tracks to help you stay on top of things. See how FarmRaise works.

Water is one of the world’s most plentiful resources. But the availability of groundwater, precipitation, drinking water, clean water and water infrastructure has been one of our world’s most pressing issues. Regardless of whether you’re in a rural community or you’re an urban farmer, being smart about your water management is key to your operation - and FarmRaise is here to connect you with resources to plan, document and implement your natural resources conservation practices.


  1. Climate change and droughts: What’s the connection?: https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2023/05/climate-change-and-droughts-whats-the-connection/
  2. Climate Change Indicators: Drought: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-drought

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