On Oct. 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final rule for its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The rule updates USDA’s flagship program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.
“This final rule enables us to continue helping producers manage their land in the most beneficial ways possible,” said Kevin Norton, acting chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “EQIP offers producers more than 150 conservation practices and helps bridge the gap between their concerns and the opportunity to implement solutions.”
NRCS provides producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement conservation practices through EQIP. Popular EQIP practices include cover crops, nutrient management, forest stand improvement, prescribed grazing, irrigation efficiency improvement and water quality improvement practices. Implementing conservation practices can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better wildlife habitat, while improving agricultural operations.
EQIP applications are accepted on a continuous basis. If a producer’s application is funded, NRCS will offer an EQIP contract for financial assistance to help address the cost of implementing the practices. Payment rates for conservation practices are reviewed and set each fiscal year.
NRCS received nearly 600 comments on the interim final rule, which was published Dec. 17, 2019. To integrate this feedback, NRCS further updated EQIP.
These updates include a revised purpose statement to expressly include addressing resource concerns for organic producers, avoiding the need for more regulatory programs and helping producers transition from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), revised ranking protocols to expressly include consideration of an applicant’s status under CRP and an adjusted definition for a “comprehensive nutrient management plan” to ensure only applicable natural resources need to be considered.
Other updates to the rule were modified requirements for an EQIP plan of operations including the progressive implementation of a comprehensive nutrient management plan, modified language in the national priorities to specifically include soil health and weather and drought resilience in the national priorities and modified purpose and scope of Conservation Innovation Grants to expressly include field research.
Updates to EQIP included in the interim final rule included creating incentive contracts and payments for incentive practices to better support locally led conservation needs, requiring NRCS to offer an advance payment option for historically underserved producers, raising the payment cap for producers participating in the Organic Initiative to $140,000 for contracts entered into for Fiscal Years 2019 through 2023 and expanding the Conservation Innovation Grant program, which is funded through EQIP to include opportunities for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials and Soil Health Demonstration Trials.
The 2018 farm bill created incentive contracts, which addresses up to three priority resource concerns within targeted watersheds and other high priority landscapes. While typical EQIP contracts last five years, these contracts last five to 10 years.
The Farm Bill also enabled increased payments for priority practices, through which NRCS can designate up to 10 practices in each state to receive higher rates.
EQIP helps producers make conservation improvements on their working lands. It contributes to USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda of reducing the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050.
Earlier this year, Secretary Perdue announced the department-wide initiative to align resources, programs and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands.
For more information on how to sign up for EQIP, visit nrcs.usda.gov or contact a local NRCS field office.