Farmer's Guide to EQIP: Funding for Farm Conservation

May 13, 2023

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made one thing clear in recent years: one of their main priorities is addressing natural resource concerns by promoting sustainability practices in agriculture. That’s good news for agricultural producers who may want to implement conservation practices on their farmland, rangeland or pastureland. Not to mention, adopting new practices can boost profitability, too.

Let’s take a look at one of the USDA’s most popular funding programs. In this article we’ll cover these questions:

  • What is EQIP? How does the EQIP program work? (technical and financial assistance, payments rates-cost share)
  • What are the benefits of EQIP?
  • Who qualifies for EQIP financial assistance? What practices could be covered by
  • Application tips: How can you make yourself a strong candidate (management plan,
  • EQIP Deadlines and Application Timelines
  • What happens once you win an EQIP grant

Did you know that FarmRaise helps farmers easily apply for EQIP?

Be more competitive for funding opportunities by tracking your farm expenses.  Sign up for FarmRaise Tracks to get started! This tool also helps you keep great financial records for reporting on your EQIP grant.

What is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program?

EQIP is a farm funding program that enables producers to adopt conservation practices on the farm or ranch. It’s a national program that’s administered at the state level but the budget is set by the farm bill every five years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets aside one billion dollars of its farm bill budget for EQIP each year, with the average farmer or rancher netting $30,000 from an annual EQIP contract.

$30,000 sounds like a nice chunk of change to help you plant cover crops, try out rotational grazing or adopt another conservation practice. If you’re a farmer or rancher looking for funding related to farm conservation, soil health, water quality or air quality initiative, EQIP might be right for you! But before you get started applying for farm funding, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

EQIP is offered through a USDA office called NRCS which stands for “Natural Resource Conservation Service.” NRCS offers assistance to producers and sets out to conserve natural resources on private lands.

How Does EQIP Work: Farm Cost-Share Program

  • EQIP is a cost share program run by the NRCS
  • Both you and the gov contribute funds

EQIP awards are structured as cost-share contracts, where the NRCS will reimburse participating producers for 75 percent of the implemented practice cost. That means you’d have to have some capital up front.

But if you’re a beginning farmer, you can also apply to receive an advance of half of the funding for the project or practice. Beginning and underserved producers may receive up to 90 percent cost-share, rather than the standard 75 percent rate.

How Much Money Can You Get With EQIP?

  • In short, 50 - 90% of the project depending on your eligibility

EQIP assistance can vary in dollar amounts based on your proposed practice and your state, but generally the amount is up to 75 percent of the cost of your project. If you’re a historically underserved producer, you can receive up to 90 percent, with 50 percent of that funding upfront. The average producer may secure $30,000 in funding.

Benefits of EQIP

  • EQIP can benefit the environment, your yields and your wallet

Environmental Benefits

The EQIP program was designed to encourage producers to take up the battle against climate change and integrate conservation into their operation. Every EQIP project is approved because of its potential to address natural resources concerns. While it’s tough to calculate the effects the program has had on the environment thus far, the intent of the program is to:

  • Improve soil health
  • Improve water and air quality
  • Create healthy habitats for wildlife and pollinators
  • Mitigate the effect of extreme weather
  • Much more

The agricultural sector is often cited as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emission and negative environmental effects. EQIP was establish to address and reserve these effects.

Efficiency Benefits

The projects EQIP covers can help farmers deal with soil erosion, improve irrigation efficiency,  animal feeding operations, water resources, quality of surface water and crop rotation practices.


EQIP can be a great option for the limited resource farmer or rancher. Remember: EQIP is a cost-share program. That means a producer will have to put up a share of the project’s cost to fulfill the program requirements. However, it can be an excellent investment in a beginning operation. By instilling conservation practices in an operation in its beginning stages, a producer could save significantly from reduced input costs, energy efficiency and added-value to your produce.

Operational Benefits

EQIP requires you to come up with a plan of operations and conservation plan so the NRCS knows exactly what your plan for the fund is.

In other words, EQIP can lead to a more cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly farm.

Transitioning to USDA organic with EQIP funding - FarmRaise
Almost two-thirds of FarmRaise newsletter readers have transitioned to organic. You can use EQIP funds to begin that transition as well.

Who Qualifies for EQIP Financial Assistance?

  • Eligible land though both urban and rural farms may qualify
  • Nonindustrial private forest land
  • Historically underserved and beginning farmers

As important as who can qualify for EQIP is what land can qualify for EQIP. Land eligibility is defined as cropland, grassland, rangeland, pastureland, confined livestock feeding operations,  and any other nonindustrial private forestland. If your land doesn’t quite fit into those definitions, don’t give up yet because there’s another category you may fit under: agricultural lands that have the capability to address resource concerns. That could potentially include watershed land or your community garden. It all depends on your resources and intentions which we’ll highlight later.

Based on that definition, most farmers and ranchers are eligible. But some producers will receive priority consideration when they apply. Those producers are what the USDA calls “historically underserved” and it includes farmers who face social or economic disadvantages. If you want to learn more about if you qualify, read our post about funding for underserved producers.

Farm Projects Eligible for EQIP Funding

  • Have a specific project in mind
  • Know the most common eligible projects

You need to have a specific farm project in mind to get EQIP funds, and it will need to address a resource concern (something related to soil, water, air quality or animal health/husbandry) for you to be a competitive EQIP applicant.

Each EQIP contract is for a specific practice or project that must fit the NRCS practice standards. Your state NRCS office will have a list of all applicable practices and their corresponding standards. FarmRaise can help you identify which practices are the best fit for your operation, so that you can be more competitive when you submit your paperwork.

You’ll also want to keep cost-effectiveness in mind. Does the proposed cost of your project appropriately correspond to the conservation benefits you anticipate as a result? A cost-effective proposal could be a factor that makes you a more attractive EQIP candidate.

Here are some of the most common EQIP projects and practices:

  • Installing fencing to support rotational grazing or prescribed grazing practices
  • Adding high tunnels
  • Transitioning to organic
  • Nutrient management planning
  • Improving irrigation and livestock watering systems
  • Transitioning to low or no-till management
  • Pest management practices
  • Adoption of natural fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides

At FarmRaise, we’ve heard many farmers we serve offer this piece of feedback: NRCS practice standards can be limiting. For example, if you want to plant a cover crop, the NRCS may be prescriptive in which cover crop you can plant and when.

Don’t let this be a barrier to participating in the program. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed by a conversation with your local NRCS representative or a FarmRaise team member.

Almost two-thirds of FarmRaise newsletter readers have transitioned to organic. You can use EQIP funds to begin that transition as well. (Pst! You can subscribe to the newsletter for FREE and get farm finance tips directly to you inbox each week.)

Application Tips: How to Be a Strong EQIP Candidate

  • Talk to your field office and ask about their priorities for the year
  • Create a conversation plan

EQIP is competitive. Only about one in three applicants will receive funding, and that’s not because they aren’t worth funding.

The most competitive applications address the NRCS’s existing resource concerns on the land.

EQIP grants are ranked and awarded based on resource concerns. State conservationists from your state technical committee decide what your region’s priorities are each fiscal year. That’s why the strongest applicants are those that already have a solid idea for a project that is also in line with the priority resource concerns of the state. If you’re looking for guidance on what those concerns are in your area, a FarmRaise team member can help you.

You’ll Need a Farm Number

You need up-to-date Farm Service Agency (FSA) records to complete an EQIP application.

EQIP  requires you to fill out several different forms about your farm income status, your land’s highly erodible and wetland status and your farm’s structure, in addition to your conservation program application. One critical piece of the application is a farm number which you’ll receive when you set up FSA records. Learn more about what a farm number is and how to get one.

If you’re ready to apply for EQIP, contact your local USDA service center and ask for an EQIP application. First, take two minutes right now to check if you’re eligible for EQIP before you begin applying to save yourself some of the headache.

EQIP Application Process and Deadlines

  • Apply anytime
  • May take 3 to 6 months
  • Applications are reviewed once or twice each year depending on your state
  • Sign up for EQIP alerts

There’s no set deadline for everyone in the nation, but applications are batched for consideration each year. If you want a shot at EQIP, you need to apply before the batching deadline for that year, which usually ranges from November to February, depending on your state.

There are two ways FarmRaise helps you stay up to date with EQIP deadlines:

  1. Sign up for FamRaise Funding Alerts which are sent straight to your inbox so you never miss a deadline.
  2. Work with a FarmRaise team member who will submit an EQIP application for you.

Be prepared for a long application-to-award timeline.

It takes about three to six months after applying for EQIP to receive an award notification.

The NRCS  typically makes decisions about which projects to fund within three months of each batching deadline. Let’s say your state’s batching deadline for EQIP is January. If you apply early in December, you may have to wait at least four months before hearing back about your proposal.

Keep in mind that NRCS, like any government program, can face delays caused by federal and state agency dynamics, lack of staff, whether emergencies or global pandemics.

EQIP Program Expectations

  • You’ll receive a visit from a USDA-NRCS representative.

There are three scenarios when a USDA-NRCS representative might come to visit your farm. Regardless, they are required to give you advance notice before they come out.

  1. When you initially apply for EQIP -  The NRCS will send a representative to meet you and walk the land. They’ll want to know where you plan to place a specific project or practice.
  2. After you install the practice - An NRCS representative will come to observe and verify that the installation is complete and in line with the contract specifications.
  3. Random spot check - It’s rare, but a representative might come check on how your project is unfolding. Again, advance notice is required.

If you’re ready to apply for EQIP, contact your local USDA service center and ask for an EQIP application. First, take two minutes right now to check if you’re eligible for EQIP before you begin applying to save yourself some of the headache. 

EQIP applications can be time consuming. FarmRaise has streamlined those EQIP forms into one, simple common application that takes a fraction of the time it takes to complete a traditional application. Our team then helps you prioritize practices in line with NRCS’s standards and helps you submit your application to the right stakeholders at your county office. You can apply, if you’re eligible, through the FarmRaise platform. If you’re ready to start applying for EQIP, you can start today from the comfort of your home or office. Keep Rising!

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