Provides Technical, Financial and Educational Assistance to Farmers and Ranchers to Address Significant Natural Resource Concerns and Objectives
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) was established in the 1996 Farm Bill to provide a single, voluntary conservation program for farmers and ranchers to address significant natural resource needs and objectives. At the national level, half of the program's resources are targeted to livestock-related natural resource problems and the other half to more general conservation priorities.
EQIP replaces these four previous programs:
- Agricultural Conservation Program
- Water Quality Incentives Program
- Great Plains Conservation Program
- Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program
EQIP works primarily in priority areas where there are serious and critical environmental needs and resource concerns. In general, priority areas are defined as watersheds, regions or areas of special environmental sensitivity or those having significant soil, water, or related natural resource concerns. Priority is also given to areas where state or local governments offer financial or technical assistance and where agricultural improvements will help meet water quality and other environmental objectives. Highest priority will be given to farmers and ranchers that face the most serious threats to soil, water, and related natural resources including grazing lands, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. All EQIP activities must be carried out according to a conservation plan.
2012 Farm Bill
Application and Financial Information
EQIP offers five- to 10-year contracts that provide incentive payments and cost sharing for conservation practices called for in a site-specific plan. Incentive payments are made to enable a producer to perform a land management practices that would not otherwise be initiated without financial assistance. The payments may reimburse the producer for a percentage of the costs of carrying out the practice, but not longer than three years. Land management practices are conservation practices that require site-specific techniques and methods to conserve natural resources. Examples include nutrient management, manure management, integrated pest management, irrigation water management, grazing management, and wildlife habitat management. EQIP also provides cost-share assistance for up to 75 percent of the cost of vegetative and structural conservation practices, such as grassed waterways, filter strips, manure management facilities, and wildlife habitat enhancement.
Contract applications are accepted throughout the year. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conducts an evaluation of the environmental benefits the producer offers. Offers are then ranked according to previously approved criteria developed with the advice of the local work group. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee approves for funding the highest priority applications based on the previously developed criteria. Applications are ranked according to environmental benefits achieved, and are weighted against the costs of applying the proposed practices. Higher rankings are given to plans addressing priority resource concerns. EQIP seeks to maximize environmental benefits per dollar spent.
Funding for EQIP comes from the Federal Government's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which funds several other USDA conservation programs. CCC funding does not require annual appropriations, and the program is less vulnerable to budget cuts. EQIP is funded at $200 million per year through the year 2002. Conservation practices related to livestock production are targeted with these funds and will receive 50 percent of the funding. Total cost-share and incentive payments are limited to $10,000 per person per year and $50,000 for the length of the contract.
Only people who are engaged in agricultural production can apply for this program. Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pasture, forest land, and other farm or ranch lands. Owners of large confined livestock operations are not eligible for cost-share assistance for animal waste management storage or treatment facilities, although financial assistance for other conservation practices on the farm or ranch may be provided. The definition of a large confined livestock operation can be determined for each state by the NRCS State Conservationist, after consultation with the NRCS State Technical Committee and approval from the chief of NRCS.
In accordance with the 1996 Farm Bill, the program is targeted to priority areas where there are significant natural resource needs and objectives established. At least 65% of the funds are to be used in locally-identified priority areas, and up to 35% can be used for significant statewide natural resource concerns. The rationale for placing program emphasis in priority areas is that more resources will be directed to address serious and critical environmental needs and concerns.
These priority areas are determined by a process that begins with local work groups, involving local conservation districts, USDA's NRCS, FSA, FSA county committees, Cooperative Extension Service, tribes, and other units of government interested in natural resource conservation. These groups conduct a conservation needs assessment, identify local priorities, determine ranking criteria, and then send their recommendations for priority areas and program policy to NRCS for approval in consultation with FSA.
Uses and Restrictions
All activities under this program must work toward conservation of natural resources. All approved applicants are responsible for developing and submitting a conservation plan that will address the situation on the applicant's land relevant to the identified conservation needs or objectives that are to be addressed. A conservation plan is developed by the producer, with the assistance of NRCS or other public or private natural resource professionals, with approval by the local conservation district. The plan is used to establish an EQIP contract.