Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)
In addition to providing food and fiber, farmers and ranchers are important managers of our natural resources. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary nature conservation program that provides farmers and ranchers with financial cost sharing and technical support in implementing conservation practices on agricultural land.
EQIP help is available through a general pool and also through specific initiatives. EQIP’s special initiatives highlight specific practices or natural resources, such as the organic initiative, which provides separate funding pools for transitional and certified organic producers.
Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)
- 1 Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)
Through EQIP, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports producers who are interested in the conservation and improvement of natural resources on their farms and ranches. EQIP is a voluntary program and is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the USDA.
Environmental quality incentive program participants install or implement structural, vegetative and management practices – such as improving irrigation efficiency, restoring pastures, or controlling nutrients and pests – on eligible agricultural land and non-industrial private forest areas.
In return, NRCS offers financial assistance with cost sharing and technical support under a contractual agreement.
Payments for conservation improvements and activities cover lost income and costs incurred in connection with planning, design, materials, equipment, installation, labor, management, maintenance and training.
In determining the amount and rate of payment to compensate for loss of income, the USDA may weight practices that promote soil health; Improving water quality and quantity; Nutrient management; Pest control; Improving air quality; Development of wildlife habitats (including pollinator habitats); and the management of invasive species.
Basics Of EQIP
EQIP can cover up to 75 percent of the cost of certain conservation practices. However, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers with limited resources, novice and experienced farmers are eligible for co-payment rates of up to 90 percent. The same group of manufacturers are also entitled to an upfront payment of up to 50 percent for costs related to planning, construction, materials, equipment, installation, labor, administration, maintenance or training.
The length of an EQIP contract varies; Contracts can last up to ten years, with most lasting one to three years. Contract activities are carried out according to an EQIP operating plan developed in collaboration with the producer.
The plan identifies the appropriate conservation practices or practices to address the resource concerns. Examples of vegetative and structural conservation practices include terraces, manure waste lagoons, irrigation systems, greened waterways, filter strips, and habitat enhancement for wildlife.
Examples of management practices are conservative crop rotation, nutrient management, drainage management and integrated pest control. The practices are subject to the NRCS technical standards, which are adapted to local conditions. Many specific characteristics of Environmental quality incentive program are determined by NRCS State Conservationists with advice from local working groups and State Technical Committees.
EQIP also supports several national initiatives that may be available to producers engaged in specific agricultural activities or located in specific geographical areas. Current national initiatives include: the On-Farm Energy Initiative; the seasonal high tunnel initiative; the National Water Quality Incentives Initiative; the organic initiative; and a new option for incentive contracts within EQIP that was created in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Eligibility Criteria For EQIP
In order to be able to apply for EQIP funding, an applicant must be the owner or operator of eligible areas that are used in agriculture, forestry or animal husbandry. Eligible land includes arable land, pasture land, pasture land, non-industrial private woodland, and other farm or ranch land.
Fifty percent of the total funding will go to livestock farms at the national level, including grazing practices. At least 10 percent of EQIP funding will go to practices that support the restoration, development, protection and enhancement of wildlife habitats.
Some states also reserve funds for certain types of surgery – such as: B. Limited Animal Feeding (CAFOs) or Special Resource Issues – such as earmarked funds in certain Midwestern states to support the health of pollinators, especially honeybees. In addition, through special initiatives such as the Organic Initiative, NRCS has set up several separate funding pools.
Five percent of the funds will go to a designated pool for aspiring farmers and ranchers, and another 5 percent will go to socially disadvantaged farmers – including minority farmers and tribal producers. In addition, experienced farmers are preferred under these two priority set-aside.
The program is competitive, with farmers submitting applications for EQIP contracts which will be assessed based on criteria developed by both the NRCS National Headquarters and the NRCS State Guardians. The grading criteria vary from state to state, but in general, applications are graded according to the following criteria:
- Overall cost-effectiveness of the proposed approach compared to the expected conservation benefits of the project.
- How effectively and comprehensively they address certain resource concerns.
- Fulfillment of the EQIP program objectives.
- Improving the conservation practices or systems in place at the time of acceptance of the contract offer or completing a conservation system.
All activities under this program must aim to conserve natural resources. All approved applicants are responsible for working with NRCS to develop and submit a conservation plan that takes into account the situation on the applicant’s land that is relevant to the identified conservation needs or objectives that are to be addressed. The payment limit for General EQIP is $ 450,000 during the term of the 2018 Farm Bill.
EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative
The EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative offers farmers who want to extend the growing seasons on their farms by using high tunnels a cost sharing and technical support.
Tall tunnels (also known as tire houses) are structures that alter the growing environment by building plastic-covered tires that are placed over the growing area.
In contrast to some greenhouses, tall tunnels do not require any energy as they rely on natural sunlight to change the indoor climate and create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and specialty crops.
The seasonal high tunnels initiative began in 2009 as a three-year pilot program in which high tunnels were set as a preliminary standard for maintenance practice. The pilot program is designed to assist NRCS in assessing the environmental benefits that can result from using the tunnels.
After three years of continued growth and interest in the program, the seasonal elevated tunnel is now an established standard for maintenance practice (# 325 in the NRCS numbering system).
EQIP Organic Initiative
The EQIP Organic Initiative provides financial support for organic producers who wish to address resource concerns by introducing and installing conservation practices tailored for organic producers. It is available in all states and counties through local NRCS offices.
Examples of conservation activities that can be funded through the Bio Initiative include: developing conservation plans; Establishment of buffer zones; Planning and installation of pollination habitats; Improve irrigation efficiency; and improving crop rotations and nutrient management.
Organic, conversion to organic and producers who are exempt from the certification requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) are entitled to conclude a contract with NRCS for the installation and implementation of organic-specific nature conservation activities in accordance with an organic system plan.
These manufacturers compete in separate funding pools, and contract payments are capped at $ 140,000, which was recently increased from $ 20,000 per year or $ 80,000 over a six year period. Organic producers can also apply for the general EQIP program, which has a higher payment cap but is also more competitive.
EQIP Incentive Contracts
The 2018 Farm Bill created a new option for incentive contracts for nature conservation within EQIP. Incentive contracts provide maintenance aid that is very similar to the general EQIP in terms of eligible land, eligible producers and the fact that they have to deal with a resource issue. While general EQIP contracts can be up to 1 year long, incentive contracts must be at least 5 years and no longer than 10 years.
States must identify up to three eligible priority resource concerns for specific regions or watersheds. The payments available for Incentive Contracts are also different from general EQIP as the Incentive Payments have two components – one for implementation and installation and one for administration and maintenance.
The basic payment factors for incentive contracts largely reflect how payments are determined for general EQIP, while also taking into account the level and scope of practice within EQIP incentive contracts. In incentive contracts, participants have two different payment options, including funding through annual payments for certain incentive practices to achieve a higher level of maintenance, or being supported by an exercise payment to implement an incentive practice.
For annual payments, they are made at the beginning of each fiscal year, while practice payments are made for performing a specific practice.
NRCS has yet to announce the details of how this new option will be implemented, but EQIP Incentive Contracts are a useful tool within EQIP for longer-term, management-based contracts and for female farmers and ranchers who eventually want to move to full management.
The Program In Action
Over the past two decades, EQIP assistance has been used across the country to help farmers conserve natural resources in a variety of ways. Between 2009 and 2018, NRCS committed over $ 13.8 billion in financial and technical assistance through EQIP cost-sharing agreements.
Over 384,000 farmers and ranchers have been awarded contracts to support conservation efforts on more than 115 million hectares. In the 2018 financial year alone, over 1.87 billion
For example, in FY 2018 over 2.6 million acres were planted with the help of EQIP with financial and technical support. In the same year, over 9,000 contracts were awarded to carry out mandatory grazing on an area of over 2.6 million hectares.
Here are just a few examples of the local impact of this program:
- Missouri – Plant and Animal Health Improvement. A budding rancher near Wellsville, Missouri, used EQIP funds to expand her cow calving farm. As part of her conservation plan, she implemented a rotating grazing system on paddocks with grasses and legumes of the warm season separated by a solar-powered electric fence. For this Fencing Grants for farmers is also available. A management-intensive rotating pasture is better for forage and cattle because it maximizes the feed base and uses nutrient-rich animal manure as fertilizer.
- Oregon – Supporting Organic Producers. The EQIP Organic Initiative enabled a farm in Kings Valley, Oregon, to integrate soil and water quality projects into its certified organic farm. Projects included installing a greened waterway to reduce erosion, minimize sediment runoff, and improve the habitat for threatened and endangered fish; Planting a hedge as a habitat for pollinators; Development of a waste management plan; and implementation of crop rotations and catch crops for soil health.
- Minnesota – Vegetation Season Extension for Vegetable Producers. A small vegetable farmer north of the Twin Cities received an EQIP contract to finance the construction of a seasonal high tunnel. Also called “tire houses”, tall tunnels function like greenhouses to help growers extend the growing season. NRCS also provided technical and financial assistance in installing an indigenous grass field border to prevent nutrients and sediments from entering nearby waterways.
How to Advertise And Program Resources
NRCS accepts applications for EQIP and EQIP Organic Initiative year-round, however applications from state conservationists are stacked and graded regularly throughout the year. State and local NRCS offices have a list of the batching data and information about the practices and specific initiatives available in that state. To find the nearest NRCS office and for more information on EQIP and EQIP Organic Initiatives, see below:
- National EQIP website, USDA NRCS
- Find country-specific information
- Find your local NRCS office
- EQIP Organic Initiative, USDA NRCS
- Read the latest news on EQIP on the NSAC blog!
Course Of The Program, Financing And Changes To The Farm Bill
EQIP was first approved in the 1996 Farm Bill and has been approved and modified in each subsequent Farm Bill since then. The Agriculture Act 2018 increases the overall budget available for EQIP; Up to $ 2 billion annually by 2023.
Within EQIP, the new farm draft law also provides a new option for incentive contracts, but does not specify the amount of funding that must be used for these contracts.
The 2018 Farm Bill maintains the 5 percent set-aside for budding and socially disadvantaged producers and brings important improvements to the prepayment option.
In addition, the farm bill increases wildlife set-aside from five percent to ten percent and also increases the payment rate for the EQIP Organic Initiative to $ 140,000 over the bill’s five years.
The 2018 Farm Bill also extends EQIP eligibility to states, irrigation counties, groundwater management counties, Acequia, Land Grant Mercedes or other similar entities for water conservation or irrigation efficiency projects.
To be eligible, land must be directly controlled by a producer or under the control of an irrigation company while being adjacent to land controlled by a producer. The Agriculture Act also makes it clear that the amount of funding allocated to each state cannot be changed due to this new eligibility.
The total EQIP payment limit has been increased to USD 450,000 under the 2014 Farm Bill, and the 2018 Farm Bill maintains that payment limit. The new Agriculture Act also increases the payment limit for EQIP Organic Initiative participants to USD 140,000 over five years.
Finally, the Agriculture Act 2018 continues to provide permanent EQIP funding and gradually increases the annual level of funding over the course of the Agriculture Act above the level of the Agriculture Act of 2014. As a result, the program will not require any new funding for farms at the end of the five-year biennium.