Make conservation work with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program
Agricultural producers looking to work smarter, not harder, select the right tools and equipment for the job. When it comes to natural resource protection, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program checks all the boxes for strength, value and reputation.
First offered in the 1996 Farm Bill, EQIP has only gotten better over time with more options to help landowners reach their stewardship goals. The depth and breadth of assistance available not only covers a variety of operations but also includes several national initiatives focused in specific geographic areas. No matter where you’re headed, EQIP has the horsepower to take you there.
Leopoldo and Dora Beltran installed two of their four seasonal high tunnels with EQIP funding that enables their company, Norma’s Produce, to stay in production throughout the year on the Northern Neck. In addition to extending their growing season, crop rotation within the Beltrans’ high tunnels helps to prevent soil erosion, improve soil quality and decrease pest damage.
“It feels good to know that we are helping the environment while also helping to increase our profits,” said Dora.
Virginia farmers and forest landowners can now sign up through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to install recommended conservation practices on their property. Eligible applicants can dip into the livestock, cropland and forestry fund pools or explore these additional special initiatives available to Virginia producers/landowners:
- American Black Duck Initiative: Focused conservation practices to restore wintering habitat in the Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.
- Conservation Activity Plans: Development of site-specific plans to recommend conservation practices that will address an identified natural resource need.
- Eastern hellbender: Targeted conservation practices to reduce sediment and nutrient inputs for improved habitat and water quality.
- Golden-winged warbler: Young forest habitat restoration in Appalachian breeding territory.
- High Tunnel System: Steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures to extend the growing season in an environmentally safe manner.
- Longleaf Pine: Stand establishment and management in the Southeastern Virginia historical range.
- National Water Quality Initiative: Targeted practices to clean up impaired streams and improve aquatic habitats in the War Branch and Mountain Run watersheds in Rockingham County and Gap Creek in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.
- Northern Bobwhite in Pine Savannahs: Management strategies to convert commercial loblolly and shortleaf pine plantings to highly valuable pine savanna habitats.
- Northern Bobwhite in Working Grasslands: Native grass restoration to address habitat loss while maintaining or improving cattle production on the land.
- On-Farm Energy: Agricultural Energy Management Plans (AgEMP) or farm energy audits to assess energy use and recommend ways to reduce it.
- Organic: Practices to help certified organic growers, those working to achieve organic certification and specialty crop producers address resource concerns on their operations.
- StrikeForce: Priority ranking for cropland, high tunnel and livestock practices to support program participation among underserved producers in rural communities.
“NRCS has also worked with multiple partners to designate 106 Source Water Protection Areas (SWPAs) that are concentrated in, but not limited to, Virginia locations traditionally associated with agriculture,” said Virginia State Conservationist Dr. Edwin Martinez Martinez. “EQIP participants who farm in these SWPAs can get higher payment rates for adopting about two dozen practices designed to reduce streambank erosion and nitrate runoff from agricultural operations.”
NRCS accepts applications year-round but makes funding selections at specific times. Interested producers must submit applications on or before Nov. 19 to be considered for Fiscal Year 2022 EQIP funding. Each applicant should submit a signed and dated Conservation Program Application to the local NRCS service center by close of business on the published deadline for a given batching period.
Applicants without farm records established through USDA’s Farm Service Agency will not be considered for ranking. The name, tax identification number and address provided must also match IRS income tax records. Those approved for financial assistance will receive payments based on an NRCS determination of incurred costs and income sacrificed for practice implementation.
Historically underserved producers* can opt for the advance payment after they are approved for an EQIP contract. Interested producers can get funds up front for at least 50 percent of the payment rate of each practice and get higher payments for the practices they install.
Call or visit your local NRCS office to learn more about USDA program eligibility requirements and how EQIP and other Farm Bill programs can help you better protect and manage natural resources on your land. Visit farmers.gov for USDA service center locations. State-specific program information is available on the Virginia NRCS website at www.va.nrcs.usda.gov.