The U.S. Department of Agriculture 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.
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.
Updates to EQIP include:
- Revise its 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).
- Revise ranking protocols to expressly include consideration of an applicant’s status under CRP.
- Adjust the definition for a “comprehensive nutrient management plan” to ensure only applicable natural resources need to be considered.
- Modify the requirements for an EQIP plan of operations that includes the progressive implementation of a comprehensive nutrient management plan.
- Modify language in the national priorities to specifically include soil health and weather and drought resilience in the national priorities.
- Authorize reduced matching requirements for Conservation Innovation Grant projects aimed at helping historically underserved producers
- 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.
However, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition argues there are a number of points on which the new rule represents a missed opportunity to ensure that EQIP would help small and midsize farmers and ranchers maximize their conservation benefit for generations to come. These include:
- Illegally doubling the payment rate for EQIP contracts from $450,000 to $900,000 for large farms owned by general partnerships
- Letting CAFOs off the hook when it comes to achieving good nutrient management — asking them as a requirement for receiving EQIP funding to put together a nutrient management plan but not requiring them to achieve it
- Refusing to specifically help EQIP producers address resource concerns in a way that would facilitate their graduation into the Conservation Stewardship Program
“NRCS had the opportunity to help EQIP better serve farmers and ranchers and conserve resources across the country through the comments they received,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “We appreciate that NRCS seized some of these opportunities, but we are disappointed that they passed on others, leaving us with a program that does less for our farmers and ranchers than it could.”
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