NRCS conservationist encourages producers to apply for EQIP fundingWritten by Gayle Smith
Landowners who want to make improvements to their ranching operations may want to look into applying for EQIP funding.
According to Jon Wicke, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) area resource conservationist in Greeley, Colo., grazing lands are a NRCS priority. Range and pasture lands within the U.S. make up 27 percent, or 528 million acres, of the total acreage and are the largest private use of land.
Grazed forestland, cropland that is grazed at some point, hay land, and native and naturalized pasture make up another 106 million acres.
“We have an extensive resource out there, and NRCS is focused on resources from a grazing land perspective,” he said.
The most important program offered by the NRCS is the Conservation Technical Assistance program.
“When it comes down to the development of a grazing lands conservation plan, ranchers can develop their grazing plan with NRCS-assistance,” Wicke says. “Ranchers make the decisions, but NRCS can help them to understand their grazing land and provide alternatives and recommendations based on their individual situation. From there, a land management specialist can help determine if financial assistance is needed and if it is a good fit for an individual operation.”
One of the most popular programs producers use to make improvements to their grazing land is the Environmental Quality Incentive program (EQIP). EQIP has a general fund with state-determined priorities and national-determined initiatives, including the Ogallala Aquifer, air quality, organic, on-farm energy and seasonal high tunnel.
National landscape initiatives include the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative, Sage Grouse Initiative and Working Lands for Wildlife.
“A lot of these initiatives came out of the 2014 Farm Bill,” Wicke said. “Some are fairly new and were only implemented last year.”
EQIP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. The program allows them to plan and implement conservation practices that will improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources.
“EQIP can also be used to help producers meet federal, state, tribal and local environmental regulations, such as water quality regulations dairies have to meet,” he explained.
Owners with land in agriculture or forest production or persons engaged in ag production on eligible land who have resources reserved on that particular land can apply, Wicke said.
“Eligible applicants must own or control the land for the contract period,” he added.
Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pastureland and non-industrial private forestland.
Other requirements are adjusted gross income provisions that must be met and compliance with highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions.
Applicants must also develop an NRCS EQIP plan of operation, with the help of NRCS, along with a conservation plan.
Applying for programs
EQIP application periods are on going, Wicke said. Deadlines are set based on different funding periods. He encourages producers to monitor the NRCS website or visit with their local office to determine deadlines.
To apply for EQIP funding, producers should meet with a representative from their local NRCS office.
The first step is to evaluate the operation to see if assistance for conservation is needed. Based on this evaluation, NRCS representatives will help the applicant determine eligibility and fill out the application.
“NRCS will use the information gathered in the planning phase to assist the producer in determining what available funding pools their plan will qualify for and to complete the screening and ranking of their application,” Wicke said.
“If a producer is selected, they can choose whether or not to sign the contract for the work to be done,” he continued.
Once the contract is signed, the applicant is obligated to carry out the contract. The completed work will be inspected and certified by the NRCS. Payments are made once the practice is installed, he noted.
Some of the most popular improvements that fall under the EQIP program are additions of windbreak, shelterbelts, fences, livestock pipelines, prescribed grazing, water and facilities and water wells.
“Any contract under EQIP will involve prescribed grazing management,” Wicke said. “Practices must be included in the approved EQIP contract to be eligible for payment.”
Wicke also stated that only planned projects are eligible for EQIP funding. Once a project is started, it becomes ineligible for EQIP.
The conservationist encouraged producers, with projects in mind, to visit their local NRCS office. Once there, they can also request a payment rate spreadsheet that details how much funding they can expect to receive for EQIP-approved projects, he added.