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EQIP mulching a good idea?

Posted by Ethan Gouge 
EQIP mulching a good idea?
April 27, 2018 08:17PM
I have the option to enter into an EQIP contract with the USDA NRCS to mulch my 450 MM111 trees. The contract would pay me $490 per acre. However, the specification are 100% coverage of the root zone at 4-10 inches. Is this too much mulching? my 4 year old trees are holding their own in thick field sod, but I also have 100 2 year old trees that could use some help competing with the sod. I've been haphazard mulching for 4 years and have gotten most trees with a couple of wheelbarrow loads at least. I could use either wood chips (seems like too much time on a rented tractor seat) or hay. I thought the best idea might be to just unroll round bales of this roughest, stemiest hay I could find on either side of my rows and be done with it. Thoughts?

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/27/2018 09:39PM by Ethan Gouge.
Re: EQIP mulching a good idea?
April 29, 2018 09:00AM
Hi, sounds interesting. Are you saying they will reimburse you for mulching your tree's?

Brampton Lake Orchards

Zone 4a Upper Michigan
Re: EQIP mulching a good idea?
April 29, 2018 10:08AM
More complete mulching is definitely called for in the early years to develop a strong scaffold structure for free-standing trees. I don't necessarily "ring mulch" but do place a bucket load of ramial chips on one side of young trees, spread to 4 to 6 inches in depth. I get the other side in similar fashion in the next year or two. Much depends on the aggressiveness of other plants in the immediate vicinity as well as availability of chips. It's been a long time since I used hay (or straw) for this purpose as there were definitely more vole issues and quack grass seemed to consider a thick grass-based mulch as an invitation. I keep the trunk zone open, regardless, be it a small peastone circle a foot or so around . . . or cultivation until I get to bringing in a few shovels of peastone to cover this zone. Organic mulch against the trunk holds in moisture and that can prove problematic for both crown rot and borers.

Eventually you want to start building the plant community that becomes a mutually-supporting fungal network. Young tree roots reaching beyond a 3 to 4 foot radius will want to find friends (so to speak) to tap into nutrient balance and water distribution as delivered by the common mycorrhizal network. This is not something the USDA is going to understand.

But how amazing to contemplate $490 an acre to mulch your tree plantings! Go with ramial chipped wood and no deeper than 6 inches.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: EQIP mulching a good idea?
April 29, 2018 12:57PM
Hi Ethan,

EQIP is going to make you meet their governement spec precisely. Unfortuantely, I doubt mulching any less than what they are asking for will get you the payback at the end of the project. But, you can always go back and adjust the mulch around those trees thereafter. Echoing --> no mulch around the tree trunks and crowns. Keep it at least 1ft back, use pea gravel mulch (it just works so darn well) in the 1-3ft ring of each of your trees. Avoid the heavy straw use for the reasons Michael mention, and I would add that gophers enjoy the safety under heavy straw mulch and bales left in the orchard too (as seen here in California way too many times) . . . plus, I would weed whack that grass hard to the ground before adding these chips because most of the perennial grasses will grown right back up through it in short order -- take this opportunity to take the wind out of sails of that sod cover. You are not trying to wipe the grass out completely out, rather you just to help encourage more diversity around your trees. . .I have had good success with that technique

EQIP is a national program with technical assistance and funding to address items like habitat degredation, soil erosion, streambank deterioration and more. For those of our members and guests that would like to learn more about this worthy USDA NRCS program, visit [www.nrcs.usda.gov]

I am guessing your qualification for the program rests on erosion concerns? or possibly conserving water?

What category did they qualify you for in your EQIP award?

By the way, here in CA the EQIP program funds are highly sought after and projects are ranked across the entire state and only X number of projects get funding. Their goal is to do the most (think: largest acreages, biggest impact projects)
with the awards given. So very worthwhile projects that may only enhance or rectify a few acres will be passed over here in CA. I believe we have a minumum of 10 acres of project designation that needs to be up for consideration here. But this changes from time to time.

One neat thing is that you get to pay service providers for the materials directly and the EQIP program reimburses you thereafter (once they approve the work completed in a final inspection). So, while we might normally would never pay for 25, 50 or a 100 yards of ramial wood chips at retail costs . . . you have the option in front of you now with the knowledge that you will get reimbursed. If you get this award and you sign the EQIP contract, my next phone calls (or in person visits) would be to the local tree service crews with a proposition for some cash per load and a map on where to deliver it at your orchard.

Good luck and keep us posted!

Gopher Hill Apples
Zone 8 in California
Re: EQIP mulching a good idea?
April 29, 2018 05:49PM

Thank you for the feedback. Michael, I'd forgotten that section on more complete weed control in the early years in your book, probably because I knew it was impossible on my initial planting of 350 trees. My gravel circles have been established, but could stand renewing. Paul, I've got a 72" sickle mower coming for my BCS that should be perfect for the cut before the mulch application.

My qualification was for "mulching'. This might be a subcategory under 'weed control' or organic practices. This is my first foray into EQIP, so my knowledge is fuzzy, but yes, I was aware that you've got to hit their specifications for payment. Per my local NRCS agent: "For wood chips the minimum depth is 4 inches. The maximum depth is 8 inches. At a minimum, the wood chips have to extend out from the plants to entirely cover all the root zone 100%. I do not have an answer on the amount per acre. Mulch shall be kept clear of the stems of plants where disease is likely to occur. Thickness of the mulch shall be adequate to prevent emergence of targeted weeds." So it looks like they have learned to keep mulch clear of trunks.

If my memory serves me right, in Tennessee veterans are put at the top of the award list. (In other states I think veterans are either paid more, or paid up front.) So, that's probably how I got in. Other than that, East Tennessee doesn't have much going on agriculturally relative to high ag areas such as yours. It's mainly small cattle farms. Our hills and mountains make it just that much more difficult for typical Big Ag scale farms. Also, rural land has been highly subdivided.

Another program I'm looking into is USDA NRCS's CSP (conservation stewardship program). It seems like it will tie the land use down a bit (although not nearly as long term as a conservation easement) and will pay me to do stuff I'm already doing and wouldn't do any other way. There is a minimum yearly payment of $1200 and goes up from there depending on what practices you implement.

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/29/2018 07:41PM by Ethan Gouge.
Re: EQIP mulching a good idea?
May 10, 2018 05:22PM
Ethan, as you say in your last paragraph, this is fascinating that USDA would reimburse for a best practice you are already doing (or going to). (I suppose that is, among other things, a comment on the entrenchment of conventional practices?) Anyways, would love to keep hearing how it works out for you! Best of luck.

Zone 7a in West-Central MD
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