Tools to Adapt to Drought Conditions: Soil Health and Irrigation Practices Through NRCS

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by Serafina Lombardi, NMAA Director of Programs

Pollinator habitat

The refrain of many in our acequia communities is “Sembramos con fe”, we plant with faith. Many of us pray to San Isidro for rain, and trust the wisdom of the land and ancestors that if we continue planting, there will be a harvest. At the same time, we watch the skies, follow the long range weather forecasts, read the patterns, and make practical adjustments in our plans and methodologies to accommodate the increasingly unpredictable seasonal cycles and extreme weather events.

Efforts to sustain our local food production require a combination of remembering traditional practices as well as implementing new technologies, and it is this confluence of our faith, perseverance, adaptiveness and wisdom that has enabled our acequia communities to thrive through economic, cultural and environmental changes, siglo tras siglo (century after century).

NMAA is committed to supporting acequia agriculturalists in finding their way through these difficult times, and the many challenges such as intense winds, late frosts, water shortages, flooding events, high temps and the threat of wildfires. One of the ways we can do this is by helping you access Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs including “Conservation Incentives” that help producers implement soil and water conservation methods on their farms! NRCS offers technical assistance, as well as access to funding to help off-set the cost of implementing many conservation practices, including those below which focus on soil health and irrigation.


“Resilience is to bounce back from whatever calamity might be” shared Virgil Trujillo at our NMAA Soil Health Plática in February 2021, during which he focused on sharing strategies he uses in his ranching in Abiquiu and as the past Superintendent of Ranch Lands at Ghost Ranch. He shared how healthy soil enables us to be resilient in these times of so many disasters, including recounting his own experience of six fires on their allotment. He emphasised two principles gained from his Holistic Resource Management Training – (1) The priority is caring for the land and the good outcomes will follow, and (2) listen, share and be open minded in the spirit of learning.

These principles can guide us to finding the practices that are right for us. During the February event we also heard from Taos farmer, Miguel Santistevan who shared some of the practices he implements including compost, worms, homemade biochar, cover cropping, and supporting biodiversity. He urged everyone, “The only wrong way to do it [build soil health] is to not do it!”

We also heard from Gabriella Coughlin, NRCS soil scientist/conservationist and soil health specialist based out of Albuquerque, where she delivers technical and financial assistance to diverse groups of private, public, and tribal landowners along the Middle Rio Grande Valley. She highlighted the work of NRCS to focus on soil health from a “village approach” and share techniques that are specific for the land you work.

At our April 2021 “USDA Lunch Break” event we also heard from David Griego, District Conservationist for NRCS, who shared the Soil Health Principles:

  • Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
  • Disturb the soil as little as possible.
  • Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil.
  • Diversify as much as possible using crop rotation and cover crops.
  • Consider integrating animals.

If you are interested in implementing more soil health practices, some of the projects that NRCS programs can help with include:

  • Soil Health Management Plans
  • Cover crops
  • Conservation tillage (reducing tillage, strip till and no till methods)
  • Windbreaks
  • Pest management
  • Nutrient Management
  • Organic Certification
  • Composting facilities
  • Cross fencing (rotational grazing) and more!


As you are probably observing, water is becoming more scarce due to the varied impacts of climate change. In addition to sharing fairly what water we do have, we can also maximize our ability to deliver water where we want it with the irrigation practices offered by NRCS, or by making your own modifications. We honor that efficiency is not our only goal, and that some seepage creates vital habitat, beautiful scenery and shade, and that we want to all be empowered with choices about how to manage the water we have access to!

If you are interested in exploring different irrigation practices, some of the projects  that the NRCS programs can help with include:

  • Gated piping
  • Alfalfa valves
  • Micro sprinklers
  • Drip irrigation
  • Cisterns
  • Piping of laterals
  • Land leveling
  • Pond sealing and more!

There are a myriad of practices to fit the needs of different operations and people in our acequia communities – and we have success stories to prove it!

 David Fresquez of Monte Vista Farms in La Mesilla worked with the Hernandez NRCS Office implementing a variety of practices including cover crops (keep a living root) and pollinator habitat (maximizing diversity) on his farm, where he also has an NRCS funded High tunnel. The Garcia family in Mora received support from EQIP to install a gated pipe irrigation system for over 20 acres of farmland. Thank you to these producers for sharing their stories to inspire the rest of us to try as well!

To get started – contact Toribio, Chavela or Serafina of the NMAA team for one-on-one assistance ( / 505-995-9644) or directly contact your local NRCS Office (505-471-0410)

If you decide to move forward in applying for a NRCS program,  next steps will include:

  1. Establish a Farm record with the Farm Service Agency

** To find your local FSA Office, visit the USDA website or call (505) 761-4462

** The NMAA Team is here to help you complete the forms

2.Contact your local NRCS office to set up a site visit where they will come walk your land with you and see what NRCS practices are a good fit.

3. Complete a NRCS EQIP application with NMAA Team assistance.

4. Your project will get ranked and if accepted, you will sign a contract for specific practices.

5. Once NRCS inspect the implementation of your conservation practices you will receive a cost share reimbursement!

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