Happold Brothers Conservation Success Stories
Hall County producers Ryan Happold and Nick Happold farm adjacent tracts of land that contain a portion of a large Rainwater Basin Wetland. In the 1960s their father had excavated a large concentration to drain the site and promote better cropping conditions. Even with the three-acre concentration pit the fields would often pond water over extended periods during the growing season significantly reducing yields. Rather than continuing to fight the reoccurring problem the brothers enrolled in RWBJV’s Divots in the Pivots program. This program provides cost-share for a whole field approach that restores the wetland and upgrades to irrigation infrastructure to maximize production potential on the adjacent cropland.
The foundation for Divots in the Pivots is the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP is administered by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides unique program flexibility. For Divots in the Pivots projects the RCPP allows producers to enroll wetland and associated upland buffers into the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and be eligible for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to support adoption of Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) technology.
As part of this project Nick enrolled 42 acres while Ryan enrolled 16 acres into ACEP. This is a perpetual easement that precludes future wetland drainage, but still allows pivot irrigation systems to cross the enrolled acres. This allows pivots to complete full rotations and maximizes the efficiency of these systems. Restoration of the wetland required filling the concentration pit. Over 42,000 cubic yards of material were needed to fill the pit. Road ditches was also filled and recontoured to improve flow into the wetlands and maximize ponded area. A high diversity local ecotype grassland buffer was also planted.
The RWBJV partners developed landowner agreements with the brothers to assist with grazing infrastructure that is not provided through either ACEP or EQIP. As part of these agreements perimeter fence and a livestock well was drilled. Pivot crossing ramps were also installed in the fence to allow the pivot to cross through the fence while ensuring that livestock could not escape. Grazing these sites will help promote desired habitat conditions and help integrate the site into the producer’s operation.
In addition to the grazing infrastructure, the landowner agreements also provided cost-share to upgrade the irrigation infrastructure to support VRI. Nick’s pivot required software and hardware upgrades to the pivot panel, a new sprinkler package, and telemetry. Ryan’s tract was converted from gravity to pivot irrigation with the partners providing 75% cost-share for the purchase of a new pivot. The pivot dealer and agronomists also contributed to the project providing cost-share for the pivot upgrades, precision soil mapping, and installation of soil moisture probes. The whole field approach will allow the pivots to vary irrigation inputs over the cropland based on crop water needs while minimizing irrigation inputs in the wetland. This helps restores natural hydrology and reduces excess irrigation inputs; thereby helping to conserve the underlying aquifer.