The Environmental Quality Incentives (EQIP) Organic Initiative (OI) is a federally-administered program designed to help growers address natural resource concerns by providing financial and technical assistance. The program focuses on soil, water, and air quality, as well as plant health and habitat for wildlife.
Note: “If you are looking for information about the EQIP-funded Conservation Activity Plan Supporting Organic Transition (CAP 138), visit our CAP Consulting Services page. A CAP 138 will identify conservation practices that you can implement with EQIP-OI cost-share assistance.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is a conservation program designed to provide financial and technical assistance to growers who have environmental resource concerns on their land. The 2008 Farm Bill allocated funds specifically for organic and transitioning–to-organic farmers through the EQIP Organic Initiatives (EQIP-OI). This program provides cost share assistance for the implementation of conservation practices that address resource concerns on agricultural lands. You can visit the national NRCS EQIP-OI webpage for more information on the program. Over the past three years NRCS in North and South Carolina have provided about $1 million dollars each in cost share assistance to implement conservation practices on certified organic and transitioning cropland.
Through grants provided by the South Carolina Specialty Crops Block and the Santa Fe Tobacco Company, CFSA has been able to hire an Organic Initiatives Coordinator. Through this program, CFSA has been working with both North and South Carolina NRCS state offices to provide technical assistance to both NRCS employees and organic/transitioning farmers to better implement the EQIP-OI program.
A resource concern is an expected impairment to the soil, water, air, plant, or animal resource. Concerns are identified by predictive models, direct measurements, observation, or client objectives. The NRCS has identified six primary resource concerns and three secondary concerns. A secondary resource concern may not be used to approve an application, unless one of the primary resource concerns is also addressed in the plan of operations.
Primary and Secondary Resource Concerns
~ Soil Quality Degradation
~ Excess/Insufficient Water
~ Soil Erosion
~ Air Quality
~ Livestock Production Limitation
~ Inefficient Energy Use
~ Plant Condition Degradation
~ Water Quality Degradation
~ Inadequate Habitat for Fish and Wildlife
In order to be eligible for the EQIP-OI program, producers must either be transitioning to certified organic, already certified, or fall under the certified organic exempt status (gross agricultural income is less than $5,000/year). Other program requirements include the following:
•Applicant must be an agricultural producer with an annual minimum of $1,000 of agricultural products being produced, sold, or both from the operation or land in which the owner has an interest in. If there are reasons beyond the producers control (e.g. climatic conditions such as drought) to meet the $1,000 annual minimum, then documentation must verify that the $1,000 minimum has been met in 2 of the last 5 years.
•Applicant must be the owner or operator on record and must have documentable control over the land for the EQIP contract period.
•Applicant’s average annual adjusted gross income must not exceed $1 million, unless two-thirds of that income is from agriculture, ranching, or forestry operations.
• Applicant must be in compliance with provisions to protect highly erodible land and wetlands.
Not sure if you’re eligible? Check out this link with an eligibility flow chart and Conservation Planning self-assessment from NRCS.
The EQIP-OI is a cost share program – not a grant funding program. EQIP-OI may provide payments up to 75 percent of the estimated costs and forgone income associated with implementing conservation practices.
Historically underserved producers (limited resource farmers, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged producers, and Tribes) may be eligible for payments up to 90 percent of the estimated costs and foregone income.
Participants in the EQIP -OI can receive a maximum of $20,000 per year, and no more than $80,000 over six years.
Each state develops their own payment rate table for practices for which they offer incentives. The practice payment rates take into consideration the increased costs and foregone income associated with implementing conservation practices in organic systems.
EXAMPLES OF CONSERVATION PRACTICES
There are incentives offered for a number of conservation practices that can assist producers with meeting the requirements for certified organic production as defined by the National Organic Program. For example, the EQIP-OI may be able to provide financial assistance for implementing Conservation Crop Rotations, developing and implementing Nutrient Management Plan, Integrated Pest Management Plan, orPrescribed Grazing Plan, or erecting permanent fencing in order to manage the movement of livestock. Visit the North Carolina or South Carolina NRCS State webpages for a list and description of conservation practices available under the EQIP-OI program.
There are a few steps required for application to the EQIP-OI cost-share program. The first, and most important step, is to develop a working relationship with your local NRCS District Conservationist in North Carolina or South Carolina in an effort to identify the resource concerns at your operation. Your local conservationist can assist you in developing a whole farm conservation plan, and if you are eligible for assistance through the EQIP-OI, he or she can assist you in completing the application process.
If you are currently certified organic you will need to provide a copy of your certification. If you are in the transition process you will need to provide a self certification letter stating that during the life of the contract you will develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production that are consistent with an organic system plan and that you have contacted a certifying agent to begin the process of transitioning to organic.
If you have not yet contacted a certifying agent, the USDA’s National Organic Program website maintains a list of accredited certifiers.
Downloadable pdf forms
If you have not already registered your farm with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), do so as soon as possible by completing the Member’s Information form (CCC901) and either the Farm Operating Plan for an Individual (CCC902I) or the Farm Operating Plan for an Entity (CCC902E). These forms are required for anyone seeking benefits from any USDA program. You will also need to complete the Average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) Statement (CCC926) and either the Consent to Disclosure of Tax Information – Individual (CCC927) or the Consent to Disclosure of Tax Information – Legal Entity (CCC928) depending on your operation type.
PLEASE NOTE: The documents provided here are sample documents for the purpose of providing you with the information you will need to have in order to complete these forms. Because these documents may be updated periodically by the USDA, the ones presented here may not be the most current.
You can obtain current documents and instructions on how to complete them electronically at the USDA Service Center or at your local FSA office in North Carolina or South Carolina. Once completed return the original documents to your local FSA office.
A DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number is required for an entity (i.e., LLC, Corporation, etc.) and is a national requirement for any entity receiving funding through NRCS programs. For more information and online application visit the U.S. Government Contractors and Grantees website.
Once you have submitted your application, the District Conservationist will rank your application according to the National Screening Criteria to ensure that the conservation technical assistance and the EQIP-OI program benefits are efficiently allocated to address priority conservation needs. Upon request, you can receive a copy of this document. If you are elected for funding, you will then be asked to sign a conservation program contract.
Eligible producers are encouraged to submit applications anytime throughout the year. However, NRCS State Offices announce prioritized funding periods throughout the year based on available funding, at which time they rank and fund eligible applications. Don’t let your decision to ask for assistance be driven by the availability of funds. You can get a conservation plan or file an application at any time. In fact, it is wise to get your conservation plan completed well in advance of any announced application deadlines Sometimes the USDA field offices cannot respond to late-arriving requests for planning assistance due to their workload and local priorities.
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Farm Services Coordinator
P.O. Box 448
Pittsboro, NC. 27312
North Carolina NRCS
Assistant State Conservationist
4405 Bland Rd. Ste. 205
Raleigh, NC. 27534
South Carolina NRCS
1835 Assembly St.
Columbia, SC. 29201
1835 Assembly St.
Columbia, SC. 29201
This work is made possible at CFSA thanks to a South Carolina Specialty Crops Block and the Santa Fe Tobacco Company.