To address various water quality concerns, the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) program is an initiative of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). The program assesses water quality, public water supply protection, flooding, and wetland protection in Kansas.
Travis Sieve, WRAPS Programmatic Unit Manager at KDHE, says WRAPS is truly a water quality program at heart.
“Any practice is really acceptable, as long as it yields a water quality improvement,” he says, “WRAPS started out with traditional agriculture, but the idea of cover crops really began in the last decade.”
Just recently, WRAPS, through the Clean Water Green Infrastructure SRF (State Revolving Fund) helped partners across the state buy eight Hagie interseeder machines. Cover crops first began as a traditional cost share program for farmers, but now WRAPS has started offering more technical assistance for cover or companion crops, says Sieve.
By establishing partnerships with sponsoring organizations, WRAPS programs can be carried out and administered in an effective manner. In particular, the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts (KACD)-KDHE partnership grant allows for 19 individual WRAPS groups to access resources for numerous water quality projects.
“What we like to see in the partnership of our program, is that the flexibility of our program allows for innovation among the guidelines of other programs,” Sieve says. “One of the aspects we’ve seen recently with that concept is grazing, where we have the ability to establish a water source, where other programs can’t.”
Whether it is the timing of weather events, or the delay in planting or harvesting – in all crops, timing truly makes all the difference. But for a producer wanting to establish cover crops, timing is also exceptionally critical. Sieve says that often, farmers don’t have time to purchase their cover crop seed after harvest is complete, which can result in a poor cover crop stand.
By helping farmers be more efficient in their cover crop seeding also provides soil health benefits to increase the overall water quality. Therefore, the WRAPS team went right to work. “The idea with the Hagie interseeder machine is to establish the cover crop into current standing commodity crops,” Sieve says.
“I think we can see a lot more cover crops in the ground than we had before,” Sieve says. Aside from some damage to the crops on the turnaround rows, the Hagie high clearance unit is retrofitted with Montag seedboxes to provide minimal damage to standing crops.
One concern Sieve says they have found in the past is the concern of everyone needing equipment at the same time. “However, with the 120-foot booms, the eight machines contracted through local cooperatives is truly made for cover large acres in a specific amount of time,” Sieve says.
Retailers provide the operators and coordinate the scheduling for the eight machines, while the WRAPS program simply provides the target areas in specific regions. If the WRAPS program could interseed their goal of 5,000 acres on each machine, Sieve says nearly 156,000 pounds of nitrogen, 70,900 pounds of phosphorus, 54 tons of sediment could be saved yearly.
As WRAPS and KDHE look to the future of other water quality programs, and in specific to the Hagie interseeder approach, Sieve says they are seeing the needle move in numerous projects and key target areas.
“We are not to a point to say the water is fixed, but we are focused on a short time turnaround of the next 5-10 years,” Sieve says. “Not only are we fixing our water quality with the implementation of cover crops, but we are also seeing habitat restoration, economic benefits for farmers, and an increase in organic carbon sequestration.”
With the help on other alliances and organizations, Sieve says there are numerous events and conversation demos held across the state throughout the summer. More information on those events can be found at kssoilhealth.org.
To see this CoffeeTalk in action, visit the AGI Community News page.