USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, is accepting applications in Iowa field offices for three special program initiatives through October 4, 2013. They are the Organic Initiative, Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative and the On-Farm Energy Initiative.
Through these initiatives, NRCS provides technical help and financial assistance at a higher rate than many other conservation programs. Each initiative includes its own set of eligible conservation practices. They are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, which is USDA's largest and most popular conservation program.
Through EQIP, eligible farmers address soil, water and related natural resource concerns on private agricultural lands. Five percent of EQIP financial assistance dollars are set aside for beginning farmers, and another 5% is reserved for socially-disadvantaged farmers.
NRCS accepts applications for all programs on a continuous basis, but recently announced October 4 is the first sign-up cutoff deadline to fund fiscal year conservation program applications in Iowa for fiscal year 2014.
More information about these initiatives:
* On-Farm Energy Initiative – This program enables a producer to find ways to conserve energy on the farm through an on-farm energy audit, providing financial assistance to implement various measures and practices recommended in the audit. Practices include typical conservation such as cover crops, no-till and windbreaks to very practical energy improvements like high efficiency lighting for aging livestock facilities and more efficient motors for grain dryers. During fiscal year 2013, NRCS provided more than $800,000 to Iowa farmers through the Energy Initiative.
* Organic Initiative – This program provides assistance to certified organic producers and those transitioning to organic production to meet their conservation goals. Examples of eligible practices include prescribed grazing, nutrient management, pest management and conservation crop rotations. Since October 2012, NRCS has provided more than $500,000 to Iowa producers covering nearly 1,200 acres through the Organic Initiative.
* Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative – This program provides financial and technical assistance to producers to build high tunnels, helping to extend the growing season for high value crops in an environmentally safe manner. Iowa producers received about $335,000 since October 2012 to fund 53 seasonal high tunnels.
For additional information about these and other NRCS programs in Iowa, visit the NRCS website and click on "Programs." You can also visit your local NRCS office located in each county's USDA Service Center.