The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) 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, air quality, plant health, and habitat for wildlife.

Note: If you are looking for information about the EQIP-funded Conservation Planning Activities (CPA) and Design and Implementation Activities (DIA) Supporting Organic Transition and Soil Health, visit our Conservation Planning page.

Introduction

EQIP, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is a voluntary conservation program designed to provide financial and technical assistance to growers who have environmental resource concerns on their land. This program offers cost-share assistance for implementing conservation practices that address resource concerns on agricultural lands.

The 2008 Farm Bill allocated funds specifically for organic and transitioning–to-organic farmers through the EQIP Organic Initiatives (EQIP-OI). To be eligible for the EQIP 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).

Natural Resource Concerns

NRCS defines a natural resource concern as an “expected degradation of the soil, water, air, plant, or animal resource base to an extent the sustainability or intended use of the resource is impaired.” Primary areas of concern are soil quality & erosion, water quality, plant and animal health and biodiversity, wildlife habitat, air quality, and energy conservation.

NRCS quantifies or describes resource concerns as part of a comprehensive conservation planning process that “integrates economic, social (cultural resources are included with social), and ecological considerations to meet private and public needs.”

Producer Eligibility

  • Must control or own eligible land.
  • Comply with adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation provisions.
  • Comply with the highly erodible land (HEL) and wetland conservation requirements.
  • Develop an NRCS EQIP conservation plan.

Payments

The EQIP is a cost-share program – not a grant funding program. EQIP may provide payments 75% of the estimated costs and forgone income associated with implementing conservation practices.

  • Participants in the EQIP Organic Initiative can receive a maximum of $140,000 over six years.
  • Participants in General EQIP can receive a maximum of $450,000 over six years.

Historically underserved (HU) producers (limited resource farmers, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged producers, and Tribes) may be eligible for payments 90% of the estimated costs and foregone income. HU participants are also eligible for advance payments to help offset expenses related to purchasing materials or contracting services through EQIP. HU participants may elect to receive an advance of not less than 50% of the EQIP conservation practice payment amount. Participants who receive advance payment must expend the funds within 90 days of receiving the advance.

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, or Prescribed Grazing Plan, or erecting permanent fencing in order to manage the movement of livestock. Visit NRCS North Carolina or NRCS South Carolina for a list and description of conservation practices.

Application Process

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. If you are eligible for assistance through the EQIP, they 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.
  • If you haven’t registered your farm with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), do so as soon as possible by:
    • Complete the Member’s Information Form (CCC901) and either of the following forms (they are required for anyone seeking benefits from any USDA program):
      • The Farm Operating Plan for an Individual (CCC902I) or
      • The Farm Operating Plan for an Entity (CCC902E).
    • Additional required forms include:
    • 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.
  • 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 on how to obtain a DUNS number, review the NRCS’s Data Universal Numbering System page.

Once you submit your application, the district conservationist will rank your application according to the national screening criteria to ensure that the conservation technical assistance and the benefits of the EQIP program are efficiently allocated to address priority conservation needs. Upon request, you can receive a copy of this document. If you are selected for funding, you will need to sign a conservation program contract.

Deadlines

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 apply at any time. Getting your conservation plan completed well before any announced application deadlines is wise. Sometimes, the USDA field offices cannot respond to late-arriving requests for planning assistance due to their workload and local priorities.

Contact Information

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association – [email protected]