The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. EQIP addresses natural resource concerns and delivers environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health and reduced erosion and sedimentation, improved or created wildlife habitat, and mitigation against drought and increasing weather volatility. Updates to the EQIP rule follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s flagship program as directed by the 2018 farm bill, integrating feedback from agricultural producers and others. The USDA released the final rule update last week.
The NRCS, National Resources Conservation Service, provides producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and execute conservation practices through EQIP.
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.
NRCS received nearly 600 comments on the interim final rule, which was published Dec. 17, 2019. To integrate the feedback, NRCS further updated EQIP to:
Every five years, Congress passes legislation that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy, commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill”. In 2018, the farm bill created incentive contracts that would last 5-10 years, versus the typical EQIP contract of only 5 years. These incentive contracts would address up to three priority resource concerns within targeted watersheds and other high priority landscapes.
Although these updates are beneficial to some, the NSAC, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said there are numerous points of concern with these new rules, missing opportunities to ensure value from EQIP to aid small and midsize, often family run, farms and ranches with regards to these conservation benefits. Many changes will target larger, general partnership entities:
Eric Deeble, policy director for NSAC, said the “NRCS had the opportunity to help EQIP better serve farmers and ranchers and conserve resources across the country through the comments they received, and 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.”