The United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) helps America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air, and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. Richland Soil and Water Conservation District works with USDA-NRCS to provide technical assistance to landowners or land managers with the purpose of addressing a natural resource concern such as reducing soil erosion and protecting water quality.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and non-industrial forest managers to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health and reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, improved or created wildlife habitat, and mitigation against drought and increasing weather volatility.
How It Works
This voluntary conservation programs helps producers make conservation work for them. Together, NRCS and producers invest in solutions that conserve natural resources for the future while also improving agricultural operations.
Through EQIP, NRCS provides agricultural producers and non-industrial forest managers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement improvements, or what NRCS calls conservation practices. Using these practices can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better wildlife habitat, all while improving agricultural operations. Through EQIP, you can voluntarily implement conservation practices, and NRCS co-invests in these practices with you.
Some of these benefits include:
- Reduction of contamination from agricultural sources, such as animal feeding operations.
- Efficient utilization of nutrients, reducing input costs and reduction in nonpoint source pollution.
- Increased soil health to help mitigate against increasing weather volatility and improved drought resiliency.
2018 Farm Bill EQIP Updates
Historically underserved (HU) participants are eligible for advance payments to help offset costs related to purchasing materials or contracting services through EQIP. HU participants may elect to receive an advance of not less than 50 percent of the EQIP conservation practice payment amount. Participants who receive advance payment must expend the funds within 90 days of receiving the advance.
The 2018 Farm Bill expanded eligibility criteria to allow water management entities who assist private agricultural producers with managing water distribution or conservation systems to apply for EQIP. These entities are defined as State, irrigation district, ground water management district, acequia, land grant-merced, or similar entity that has jurisdiction or responsibilities related to water delivery or management to eligible lands.
The 2018 Farm Bill requires that nationally 10 percent of mandatory program funding be targeted towards source water protection. States will identify priority source water protection areas and may offer increased incentives and higher payment rates for practices that address water quality and/or water quantity.
Beginning in 2020, States may provide increased payment rates for high-priority practices. In consultations with the State Technical Committee, State Conservationists may designate up to 10 practices to be eligible for increased payments. Eligible high-priority practices include those that address specific causes of ground or surface water impairment relating to excessive nutrients, address the conservation of water to advance drought mitigation and declining aquifers, meet other environmental priorities and priority resource concerns identified in habitat or area restoration plans, or is geographically targeted to address a natural resource concern in a specific watershed.
- Cover Crops: Growing a crop of grass, small grain or legumes primarily for seasonal protection and soil improvement. Learn more about cover crops.
- Grassed Waterway: A grassed waterway is a shaped or graded channel that is established with suitable vegetation to convey surface water at a non-erosive velocity using a broad and shallow cross section to a stable outlet. Learn more about grassed waterways.
- Fences: A fence is a constructed barrier to livestock, wildlife, or people. Learn more about fences.
- Forest Stand Improvement: Forest stand improvement involves the manipulation of forest species composition and structure by cutting or killing selected trees and understory vegetation. Learn more about forest stand improvement.
- Heavy Use Area Protection: Heavy Use Area Protection (HUAP) is a way to stabilize a ground surface that is frequently and intensively used by people, animals, or vehicles. Learn more about Heavy Use Area Protection.
- Prescribed Grazing: Prescribed grazing involves managing the harvest of vegetation with grazing and/or browsing animals. Learn more about prescribed grazing.
- Irrigation. Learn more about irrigation.
- Waste Storage Facility: To store manure, agricultural by-products, wastewater, and contaminated runoff to provide the agricultural operation management flexibility for waste utilization. Learn more about waste storage facilities.
- Watering Facility: Its proper location will improve animal distribution and vegetation. A watering facility is sometimes installed to keep livestock out of streams and other surface water areas where water quality is a concern. Learn more about watering facilities.
Most agriculture producers that participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) have already implemented conservation practices on their land.CSP offers additional opportunities to expand on existing conservation efforts by offering conservation practices, enhancements, bundles, and other conservation activities. For example, if you have been planting a cover crop, you may decide to try an enhancement for multi-species cover crop or implement a deep-rooted cover crop to break up soil compaction.
If you decide to enroll in CSP, the local NRCS conservation planner will have a one-on-one consultation with you to evaluate your current management system and the natural resources on your land. Then the NRCS conservation planner will present a variety of CSP conservation activities for you to consider implementing on your land in order for you to address additional natural resource concerns. The variety of CSP conservation activities offered give you a lot of freedom to select enhancements, practices, or bundles that help you meet your management goals. These improvements help bring out your land’s best potential.
Once you choose the conservation activities that best fit your operation, CSP offers annual payments for installing these activities on your land and operating and maintaining your current conservation efforts.
USDA Services – Farm Bill
Farm Bills are annually adjusted to prioritize USDA programs and offer services within the budget cycle of the funding year. The 2018 Farm Bill recently became law, providing funding for the nation’s major conservation programs. As the federal government’s primary agricultural and food policy tool, the Farm Bill supports many USDA programs. This includes the conservation programs that provide farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners with technical and financial assistance to address resource concerns on their land.
Assistance includes both technical expertise and funding to help put conservation practices on fields and in forests in Ohio and across the country. For example, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps farmers conserve water with more efficient irrigation systems and improve soil health with cover crops. NRCS works with landowners and land managers to heal eroded farm fields and improve surface water quality. NRCS works to promote rotational grazing systems which enables pastures to grow better food for livestock while keeping grass in place to prevent soil erosion. Small farm assistance such as High Tunnel production of vegetables and fruit are available also.
This assistance is made available through a variety of conservation programs. Key changes with the 2018 Farm Bill include:
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
- FSA began accepting applications on June 3, 2019, for certain practices under the continuous CRP, offering a one-year extension to existing CRP participants who have expiring CRP contracts of 14 years or less, and reopening enrollment for existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) agreements.
- FSA plans to offer a General CRP sign-up in December 2019.
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP): On April 26, 2019, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released guidance to State committees to identify RCPP coordinators in each State.
- Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): On May 10, 2019, NRCS posted guidance for state conservationists regarding the handling of participant requests to apply for new contracts, as well as extending unexpired contracts from 2014. Additional guidance was posted regarding changes needed for existing RCPP partnership agreements to enroll in new CSP contracts.
- Technical Changes to NRCS Conservation Programs: On May 6, 2019, NRCS published an interim final rule to make existing regulations consistent with the 2018 Farm Bill. These include:
- Waiving duplicative requirements under the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program;
- Expanding the purposes of the Healthy Forests Reserve Program to allow protection of at-risk species and allowing permanent easements on Tribal lands;
- Authorizing that certification of technical service providers be through a qualified non-federal entity; and
- Requiring that $3 million of funds to implement the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program be used to encourage public access for hunting and other recreational activities on wetlands enrolled in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
- Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG):
- On May 15, 2019, NRCS announced that it is investing $25 million per year over the next five years to help support On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, part of the CIG and available to farmers eligible to participate in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. NRCS will accept proposals through July 15, 2019 for the new On-Farm Trials.
- On May 30, 2019, NRCS announced the availability of $12.5 million to support CIG on agricultural lands. NRCS will accept proposals through July 30, 2019.
The USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider and Employer.