7 Application Tips for EQIP: Funding for Farm Conservation

July 28, 2022

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. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets aside one billion dollars for EQIP each year, with the average farmer or rancher netting $30,000 from an annual EQIP contract.

7 Key Tips About EQIP Every Producer Should Know

$30,000 sounds like a nice chunk of change to help you plant cover crops or try out rotational grazing. If you’re a farmer or rancher looking for funding related to a 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. 

1. EQIP is a cost share program run by the NRCS.

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. Though the agency also focuses on soil and water quality, its main focus is on agricultural land.

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. 

2. You need to have a specific farm project in mind to get EQIP funds.

Your project 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.

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

  • Installing fencing to support rotational 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

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.

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.

3. 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. 

‍4. EQIP deadlines vary greatly.

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.

5. EQIP grants are ranked and awarded based on resource concerns.

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.

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.

6. 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, weather emergencies or global pandemics.

7. You need up-to-date 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 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 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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