By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy

On the Climate Column, we have discussed many conservation practices, such as cover crops and stripcropping, that help farmers mitigate climate change, either by reducing emissions related to farming or by storing carbon in the soil.

Many of these practices not only cut carbon emissions, but they can also make a farm more resilient to extreme weather variations and enhance farmers’ margins by reducing dependence on costly inputs. However, their implementation or installation of  may be unfamiliar to some farmers and may require an initial capital expense that exceeds standard operational budgeting. In those instances, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers technical and financial assistance to farmers interested in certain climate-smart practices.

Through EQIP, NRCS establishes a contract with participants, which requires them to install physical features or to execute management practices with conservation benefits. For their side of the agreement, the organization provides financial and technical assistance. Producers do not choose practices on their own; instead, they identify resource concerns, and then they work with NRCS to select the measures that most effectively address those concerns on their property. Most EQIP contracts run two or three years, and are limited to ten years. NRCS can contribute up to 75 percent of the cost of certain practices, or up to 90 percent for beginning, limited-resource, socially disadvantaged, or veteran producers. Further, producers in these groups can also receive up to 50 percent of the cost in advance, while other producers have to wait until the end of their contract for reimbursement.

If you have an idea about what you may want to accomplish on your land, you can check your state NRCS’ EQIP website to see whether it tracks with the state priority resource concerns and eligible practices, as well as state-specific deadlines. Visit this page and scroll down to the State EQIP Links to find your state. For example, high priorities in North Dakota include grasslands health, soil health, water quality and quantity and wildlife habitat enhancement. Wisconsin has water quality in common with North Dakota, but also lists soil erosion, soil quality, plant degradation and energy as state priorities.

There are also National EQIP Initiatives that overlap significantly with climate-smart practices, like the Air Quality, On-Farm Energy and Organic Initiatives. The program is consistently and dramatically oversubscribed, so link your application to these initiatives and priorities as much as possible. There are also competitive advantages for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Mandatory spending on EQIP will increase to $1,750 million in fiscal year (FY) 2018 from $1,650 million in FY 2017, but more substantial increases would be needed in the new farm bill to address the huge application overflow.

What are the EQIP priorities in your state? Do resource concerns on your farm match national or state EQIP priorities?

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