Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, on July 3 announced that the Bush Administration will release an additional $200 million for the national Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Harkin, who is Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, included this funding in the new federal farm bill – the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act – that recently became law.
EQIP is a USDA program that offers financial and technical help to assist eligible farmers and landowners install conservation practices on eligible agricultural land. The funding will be available for the current fiscal year and it is expected that some of this funding could be available for flood recovery efforts.
Farmers encouraged to enroll in EQIP
"There is a reason why this farm bill is named the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008," says Harkin. "Conservation is critical to our lands and agricultural production. That's why I advocated so strongly for funding these programs in the farm bill and will continue to push to ensure that farmers receive assistance to install, improve and maintain sound conservation practices. I'm encouraged that the administration has agreed to release this funding and I encourage all eligible farmers to enroll."
The farm bill substantially increased funding for EQIP by 27.2%, for a total of $3.393 billion over the next five years. The bill adopts a new process for determining payment levels for conservation practices based on the costs associated with adopting a practice and revenue foregone by the farmer. Socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers and beginning farmers or ranchers are eligible to receive an increased cost-share rate that is 25% above the otherwise available rate, to a maximum of 90%.
These producers may also receive up to 30% of their total contract in advance to provide funds for materials and contracting. Priority for contracts concerning water conservation or irrigation practices goes to producers who agree not to bring new land into irrigated production with any associated water savings. Conservation associated with organic production is authorized for payments. The program also adds additional forestry practices including forest management and fuels management.
The Office of Management and Budget will release the funding to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the coming days so that NRCS may begin the process of allocating funding to state and so that farmers can sign up. Farmers interested in enrollment should contact their local NRCS office.