By Sarah Elmquist Squires, Managing Editor

WYOMING – Imagine the number of times farmers and ranchers in the Mountain West have squinted up to the sky on a hot, dry day, have watched riverbanks reduced to muddy gorges, have prayed for rain. The persistent drought that has plagued parts of the country does not simply produce more and bigger wildfires that threaten homes. The drought endangers the farmers and ranchers who nourish the entire nation, and while scientists and government agencies procure reports and log data, there are few programs out there that take the problem down to the boots on the ground and the landowners who know best what might help. 

Enter the LOR Foundation’s new Field Work program, which aims to get funding into producers’ hands quickly to help them experiment with new ideas when it comes to tackling issues related to water resources. It’s not a lot of paperwork or reporting, or the things that make a lot of grant programs cumbersome to busy ag producers. Instead, starting February 1, farmers and ranchers can complete a quick application for up to $10,000, get the funds quickly, and start implementing their ideas on the ground. The grants are open to rural producers across Wyoming and the other three states in which LOR operates, including New Mexico, Montana and Colorado. 

“What we’re trying to do is work directly with the farmers who have an idea to make water go further on their land,” explained Alex Dunlop, LOR’s chief business development officer. “We think that the people who are closest to the problem often have the best solutions … It starts with an idea, putting it into the ground.” 

Applicants for the grants must have independent authority to make changes to water use on the land on which they work, and projects should address issues related to water efficiency, water reliability, water quality, crop yield or crop diversification, and/or labor efficiency. “We want to try to identify the people who have creative, out-of-the-box ideas as to how to make their water go further,” Dunlop said. It could be a different kind of irrigation system, a crop that’s never been tried in the region, or a technique or technology that’s new for the area. “We’re trying to think about it as broadly as possible,” Dunlop added. “One thing we know for sure is that we can’t do this alone.” 

Many grant programs that work to address water issues are larger, more complex, with reporting requirements that would be impossible for busy ag producers to fit into their schedules. Because of that, many of them become far removed from the farmers and ranchers who understand their land the most, who might just hold the ideas that can make the biggest impacts on their communities. For the Field Work program, the application can be done online in about 20 minutes, and producers are expected to check in with an update mid-way through their project, then report how it went at the end of the season. That’s it. 

“[Farmers and ranchers], their office is often behind the steering wheel on the side off the road or on their land,” Dunlop said, explaining that LOR wanted to tailor the program to work for even the busiest agricultural producers. They are the ones problem solving every day, “Whether it’s duct tape or a new machine that they’ve created because they have to.” 

Producers have until February 22 to submit their applications, with the application period beginning on February 1. LOR would like the projects funded to be completed this year, and the organization will take the information about how projects went and help share them with agriculture professionals and other organizations to spread the word. 

While one individual idea or solution may not be able to address the issue of water scarcity, giving farmers and ranchers the help to take a risk to try something new can yield many new findings that together make a real impact. “Many small solutions can lead to an increased quality of life for everyone in Lander and other small communities like it,” Dunlop said. 

Find out more about the program when the application period opens on February 1 by visiting