Sarah Brown, Oregon Tilth
Ed Zaborski, University of Illinois, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
David Lamm, NRCS East National Technology Support Center
Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota
Michelle Wander, University of Illinois, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program is administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and is available in all states and all counties. The program provides assistance for new and existing organic producers to implement conservation practices new to their farm, including conservation crop rotations, cover cropping, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing, and forage harvest management. The 2012 EQIP Organic Initiative provides financial and technical support to help producers plan and implement conservation practices to support their organic operations in being more environmentally sustainable.
When are applications due?
EQIP applications are accepted continuously, with deadlines established for individual "rounds" of funding. Applications submitted after the deadline are held for the next round. Contact your local District County office to verify the application deadline in your state.
Who is eligible?
The Initiative will focus EQIP financial and technical assistance to:
- Certified organic producers
- Transitioning to organic production, or
- Organic producers exempt from certification (selling less than $5,000 of organic products annually)
- The intent of this initiative is to help organic growers incorporate new conservation practices into their farming operations. Producers participating in the Organic Initiative are limited to financial assistance up to $20,000 per year and a total of $80,000 over a 6 year period for implementing conservation practices. EQIP payments are set up by a contract that can last several years.
- Payments are made for the adoption of new conservation practices and in some cases, the enhancement or improvement of existing practices. Certified organic producers who have already been using organic and conservation techniques might not meet the criteria for new practice adoption. For these producers, the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program might be an attractive option.
- Payments for the implementation of conservation practices are determined at the regional and state level. In most cases payments are by the acre but is some cases they are per farm or some other unit of measurement. Talk with your district conservationist to ensure that your contract reflects payments most appropriate for your farm. In many cases, organic payment scenarios are available that account for the higher cost of implementing conservation in accordance with the NOP rules. Make sure you understand what the costs are for practice implementation before signing a contract.
- Organic producers who are interested in conservation practices that will cost more than the $20K/$80K limits of the Organic Initiative may participate in regular EQIP. The competition increases, but the maximum payment could rise to $300,000 over a 6 year period. It could even rise to $450,000 if you can justify it as of a unique and significant environmental benefit.
- In addition to the usual contract requirements for EQIP, producers agree to develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production that are consistent with an organic system plan per provisions established in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) and to standards established in the National Organic Program (NOP) Act (7 USC 6501-6522). For more information see the Self-Certification Worksheet that you'll be required to sign. If terms are not met, the EQIP program contract may be terminated and producers may be responsible for repayment of benefits received and possible assessment of liquidated damages.
What kinds of conservation practices are eligible?
The 2012 Organic Initiative provides support for a range of practices. NRCS has identified 64 eligible practices but these are adjusted by state. Your local office should be able to provide you with a list of eligible practices and explain what they each entail. Eligible practices can assist you in the following:
- Developing a conservation plan
- Developing a transition to organic plan focused on conservation practices
- Establishing boundaries and buffer zones
- Improving soil quality and organic matter while minimizing erosion
- Improving pest management
- Developing a grazing plan and improving grazing resources
- Improving waste utilization and composting
- Improving irrigation efficiency
- Enhancing cropping systems and nutrient management
Consult the 2012 EQIP Organic Initiative Practice List and National Organic Program Rules Correlation Matrix to determine how conservation practices relate to your organic system. For more information on practices addressing the NRCS resource concern categories of soil quality, soil erosion, domestic animals, plant condition, water quality, and fish and wildlife consult NRCS practice standards. Keep in mind that each state has very specific standards and specifications for why and how practices are implemented before making a payment. Make sure to be clear on what these expectations are and ensure that they will meet your needs. Below are a few examples with links to the national NRCS standards.
Conservation Crop Rotation
This practice is used to control erosion, manage pests and nutrients and increase soil organic matter by alternating crops grown in a sequence. It serves as the foundation for improving the soil resource on a farm, and fits well with NOP requirements.
NRCS Conservation Crop Rotation Practice Standard:
This practice is used to control erosion, improve soil quality, manage nutrients, increase biodiversity, and suppress weeds. It can be used in concert with a conservation crop rotation to maximize the resource benefits that can be achieved.
NRCS Cover Crop Practice Standard: ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/NHQ/practice-standards/standards/340.pdf
This practice is used to control the amount, type, timing and placement of nutrients to support crop production. Nutrient application rates are based on the use of a nutrient balance sheet that determines the crop nutrients needed to produce a realistic yield goal using soil test, manure analysis and accounts for nutrient credits from legumes, composts, etc.
NRCS Nutrient Management Practice Standard:
This practice is used to prevent and mitigate pesticide and pest suppression related risks to natural resources. While it does not pay for the implementation of IPM, when risks (or potential risks) are identified it can help you develop an IPM plan based on Land Grant University guidance.
NRCS Pest Management Practice Standard:
This practice requires producers to manage their pasture according to a prescribed grazing plan. The plan contains information related to forage quality and quantity and animal numbers to develop a grazing schedule based on a forage-animal balance. It also includes a contingency plan and monitoring activities, and can be used by organic livestock producers to comply with NOP grazing requirments for ruminants.
NRCS Prescribed Grazing Practice Standard:
Forage Harvest Management
This practice is for the timely cutting and removal of forages from the field as hay, green-chop or ensilage. Harvest is conducted at the proper stage of maturity for planned quality and quantity of forage, and to maintain healthy plants to lessen incidence of disease, insects and weed infestations.
NRCS Forage Harvest Management:
How can I apply?
To determine program eligibility, discuss conservation options on your farm, and fill out an application contact your local district office.
In addition to meeting criteria for the EQIP Organic Initiative, you will need to meet criteria related to the determination of Highly Erodible Land, wetland conservation/compliance and the Adjusted Gross Income determination. To start this process you need to go into your local Farm Service Agency office and get a farm number and tract number.These criteria apply to all USDA programs not just EQIP, so if you have never been in the USDA Service Center before this is the place to start. This takes time and can be a barrier to program enrollment if you are not prepared.
For background information on the program, including ranking dates, states contacts, eligible practices, etc visit the NRCS National EQIP Organic Initiative website.
Applications for the EQIP program are accepted on a continuous basis, however, NRCS establishes application “cut-off” dates for evaluation and ranking of eligible applications. At the time of application, you will also be provided with a copy of the Contract Appendix, explaining EQIP contract terms and conditions. Review the contract appendix up-front so that you know the contract terms and conditions. Retain copies of all forms and documents that you submit to the NRCS and FSA.
- NRCS National EQIP Organic Initiative Page
- Local District County Office locator
- Accessing the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative for Conversion or Expansion - from ATTRA; includes recommendations for producers on navigating the application process.
- Oregon Tilth’s Organic Conservation Program – includes a number of resources available for producers and agricultural professionals interested in learning more about conservation on organic farms.
Organic Vineyard Success Story | Arizona NRCS
Success Story - Illinois NRCS
Conservation Showcase - Organics | Missouri NRCS
Conservation Showcase | Massachusetts NRCS
Oregon's Conservation Showcase | Oregon NRCS
Conservation Showcase | Washington NRCS
This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.