Author’s Note: This article focuses on programs in of Kentucky, but similar programs are available in many other states.
Horse-keeping costs extend far beyond the basics of feed, hay, and routine farrier work and veterinary care. Horse owners and farm operators might overlook, but could eventually be faced with, larger projects such as making pasture improvements, building hay storage facilities, installing high-traffic pads, and constructing safe stream crossings. The good news is that cost-share programs offer horse owners a chance to improve infrastructure at a reduced cost.
As the name suggests, these programs are designed to share the cost of improvements with the farm owner. Programs can cover 50% to 90% of the actual costs, allowing horse owners to invest in farm improvements that might otherwise be out of their budget. Cost-share programs’ goals vary, but generally focus on one of two areas: environmental protection and farm productivity.
A leading environmental protection cost-share program is the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), which is administered by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). This program has both financial and technical environmental benefits on working agricultural lands. Goals include reducing the impacts of agricultural production and protecting the long term economic stability of the operation.
Adding interior fencing to promote better rotational grazing on horse operations is a popular EQIP-eligible. Large pastures divided into smaller paddocks allow farm operators to implement rotational grazing, which can help promote grass and legume ground cover, reduce runoff and soil erosion, and curtail the need to purchase hay.
Constructing stream crossings is another eligible practice. Streambed traffic, from livestock or vehicles, can erode stream banks, causing flow changes and affecting wildlife living in or near the stream. Additionally, stream crossings can be dangerous for livestock if they slip and fall in muddy footing or on hidden rocks. Water quality can also be impaired if livestock have open access to streams. Improved crossings usually aim to stabilize the stream banks, provide safe footing for animals or vehicles to cross, and restrict stream access.
Funds from NRCS-EQIP are available to all commodities and livestock farms and recently became available to small horse operations. In Kentucky, there is no minimum acreage requirement for participation. Interested applicants should visit their local NRCS office to become more familiar with what EQIP offers and the requirements for participating in the program. Find EQIP application information by state at nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/financial/eqip/?cid=nrcs143_008223.
The County Agricultural Investment Program (CAIP) is a cost-share program available through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund and the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. The program aims to increase net farm income, add value to products, and diversify operations, all of which can make a farm more profitable and more likely to stay in agricultural production.
Eligible CAIP investments can include commodity (including hay) storage. Dry hay storage on horse farms can significantly reduce waste, therefore lowering the annual hay expense, and dry hay also retains better quality and is more likely to meet horses’ needs to reduce the requirement for additional concentrates.
Other investment areas could include improving pasture productivity with seed, fertilizer, or herbicide applications, as well as fencing improvements or construction of run-in sheds and equipment storage buildings. Check with your local county extension agent about the availability and eligibility of CAIP or other local cost-share programs.
How are Cost-Share Programs Administered?
While every program is different, some key elements exist in nearly every program:
- Due to high program demands, there is generally a limited application window. The Kentucky CAIP program generally has a 30-day window to apply, typically in late summer, but timing varies by county. EQIP applications are accepted year-round and are batched periodically throughout the fiscal year. Applications received by each batching period are ranked and funded based on funding availability. Batching periods are announced via local media outlets as well as on the Kentucky NRCS webpage 30 days prior to the end of the batching period. For Fiscal Year 2019, Kentucky has announced a batching period cut-off on Nov. 2 for certain EQIP Fund accounts. Interested applicants should visit their local NRCS office or the Kentucky NRCS webpage prior to Nov. 2 to find out which fund accounts will be included in this first batching period. Additional Fiscal Year 2019 batching periods will be announced as deadlines approach.
- Time of practice/investment is also limited. EQIP will not cover any practice that has already begun before the final contract is signed but can cover projects up to three years out. CAIP will often go up to six months retroactive but only covers future projects that will be completed within the next six months. Project deadline timing can vary by county.
- Any practice or investment must meet the program goals and serve the producer. To ensure investments are beneficial in meeting program goals, horse owners might be required to complete a water quality plan, have a grazing plan on file, and attend educational events.
- Projects must meet conservation practice standards. Payment is often not issued until a practice is professionally certified to meeting standards. Practices must also be maintained for a minimum amount of time or lifespan. Pasture improvements are shorter, often just five years, while infrastructure is longer, such as 20 years for fencing and 15 years for automatic waterers. Additionally, the responsibility of maintaining these investments go with the land. So, if a property is sold soon after completing these improvements, the new owner accepts the responsibility of maintaining the investments.
Where Do I Sign Up?
Most programs are limited to specific areas, so no universal sign-up exists. EQIP is a national program that is available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico while CAIP is specific to Kentucky, though similar programs exist in other states. Most agricultural cost-share programs will in some way involve either the local Cooperative Extension office (state) or the local NRCS District office (federal). Both of these agencies can provide a wealth of technical information to all types of producers and work with horse owners to be aware of cost-share opportunities and assist in the application process. If you are interested in learning more about cost-share programs available in your state or local area, contact your county agent and natural resource manager.
How the University of Kentucky (UK) is Involved in Cost-Share
The NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP) represent another area of cost-share funding. These programs are often part of a larger program, such as EQIP, but are administered by a localized group for a more specific clientele. In 2016, the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences was awarded a RCPP agreement to serve horse owners in Kentucky. “Overgrazing and Soil Degradation on Horse Farms in Kentucky” is a first-of-its-kind program exclusively covering equine operations. This program has the same goals as EQIP and operates in much the same way, except that funding is set aside specifically for this program. In 2017, three horse farms were nominated by their local Cooperative Extension agent or natural resource manager and selected to serve as demonstration farms.
The first of these farms was Paul and Melita Knapper’s Mercer County breeding operation. The Knappers had sufficient land for their horses, but much of it was in row-crop production, meaning their cool-season pastures were being overgrazed. Through the NRCS-RCPP program, the Knappers have fenced three additional pastures, established cool-season grasses, and installed automatic waterers. Increasing the number of grazing acres allows them to rotationally graze their pastures. In 2018, the Knappers hosted the UK Equine Farm & Facilities Expo to showcase their improvements.
Other demonstration farms include Weber’s Retired Horses, in Princeton, and the YMCA Camp Ernst stable, in Burlington. These farms have installed stream crossings, a pond, heavy-use areas, automatic waterers, and established pastures as part of their contracts. Each will be hosting an educational event in the next two years.
In addition to these three demonstration farms, 10 other farms in Bourbon, Campbell, Clark, Henderson, Knott, Mason, Union, and Woodford counties are also participating in this program.
Funds allocated to these 13 farms total nearly $200,000 and improvements cover more than 500 acres of horse pasture and adjoining natural resources.
This program would not be possible without help from industry partners, including Bluegrass Equine Digest, Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation, Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council, Kentucky Quarter Horse Association, Mars Horse Care, McCauley Brothers, Pennington Seed, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and Woodford Feed Co.
Krista Lea, MS, research analyst and coordinator of UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program; Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist, both within UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Linda McClanahan, Mercer County Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources, provided this information.