Farmers and forest landowners will want to plan ahead and sign-up early for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation funding. Eric Allness, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Acting State Conservationist in Wisconsin, announced farmers and forest landowners interested in Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) producer contracts need to apply by May 20, 2022, for a second round of funding in fiscal year 2022.
Although NRCS accepts applications year-round, please apply NOW for a second round of fiscal year 2022 funding consideration. Applications are being taken at all USDA Service Centers in Wisconsin. Applications received after May 20 will automatically be deferred to the next funding cycle.
EQIP and RCPP are the primary programs available to farmers and landowners for farm and woodland conservation work, offering payments for more than 120 basic conservation practices. Last year, Wisconsin NRCS invested $33 million in conservation practices through EQIP and RCPP practices.
“The Farm Bill allows NRCS to support conservation that ensures cost-effective financial assistance for improved soil health, water and air quality and other natural resources benefits,” said Allness. “By getting EQIP or RCPP applications in early, NRCS staff will have time to assist in planning conservation practice needs.”
All eligible applications received by May 20, 2022, will be evaluated, prioritized and ranked for funding in 2022. Farmers may contact their local USDA Service Center to get started on producer eligibility and planning. Allness reminds farmers who are interested in practices that may require permits, such as manure storage or streambank restoration, to begin planning and seeking permits as soon as possible. Applicants with shovel-ready projects (designs completed and permit applications submitted) will receive a higher ranking in select fund pools.
Sign-up for several special initiatives focusing on conservation efforts. Special sign-up opportunities are open for Climate Smart Agriculture & Forestry, as well as several landscape-based initiatives. Special initiatives are available for Beginning Farmer, Socially Disadvantaged and other historically underserved producers, such as Tribes, at increased payment rates. All offer technical and financial assistance through EQIP or RCPP.
Climate Smart Agriculture & Forestry: A sub-set of practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon and ultimately mitigating the impacts of climate change. The benefits are two-fold: producers improve the health, productivity, resiliency and profitability of their operations while mitigating the impacts of climate change for our entire nation.
Conservation Planning Activities (CPA), Design Implementation Activities (DIA) and Conservation Evaluation and Monitoring Activities (CEMA): CPAs: Activities that result in a conservation plan documenting client decisions regarding selected alternatives including identification of desired primary and supporting practices that the client would like to use to treat identified resource concerns. DIAs: Activities that allow for development of specific practice designs, management prescriptions, or other instructions that allow the client to implement the conservation practice or system of conservation practices. CEMAs: Activities that include evaluation, monitoring, testing, or assessment for a specific purpose, to complete practice implementation requirements, or to determine the effectiveness of conservation practices and activities.
EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts (EQIP-CIC): Conservation Incentive Contracts (CIC) provide additional opportunities for eligible producers to further the adoption, management and maintenance of conservation practices and activities through the implementation of incentive practices. Incentive contracts are an option that blend EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by providing producers with financial assistance to adopt conservation activities on working landscapes. The EQIP-CIC focus for fiscal year 2022 is on climate smart agriculture and forestry practices.
Working Lands for Wildlife – Monarch: Through Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), USDA uses a win-win approach to systematically target conservation efforts to improve agricultural and forest productivity while enhancing wildlife habitat on working landscapes. Target species are used as barometers for success because their habitat needs are representative of healthy, functioning ecosystems where conservation efforts benefit a much broader suite of species.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), NRCS offers financial assistance to agricultural producers for implementing practices that improve water quality and benefit wildlife in selected watersheds. Eligible watersheds include Door-Kewaunee Rivers, Lower Fox River, Manitowoc-Sheboygan, Milwaukee River, Oconto River, Peshtigo River, Pensaukee River, Upper Fox River, Wolf River and Lake Winnebago watersheds.
Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative: The overall goals of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) are to improve water quality by minimizing contributions of phosphorus and nitrogen to the surface waters in the basin and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Conservation practices target avoiding, controlling and trapping nutrients and sediment before they enter surface waters. Within the larger Rush River watershed, five sub watersheds are eligible for MRBI funding: Town of Martell-Rush River, Goose Creek-Trimbelle River, Spring Creek-Trimbelle River, Little Trimbelle River and Crystal Springs Coulee-Rush River.
National Water Quality Initiative: The National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) is designed to help individual agricultural producers take actions to reduce the runoff of sediment, nutrients and pathogens into waterways where water quality is a critical concern. The goal is to implement conservation practices in focused watersheds in a concentrated area so that agriculture no longer contributes to the impairment of water bodies within these priority watersheds. Eligible watersheds include Bear Lake-Little Wolf River in Waupaca County, La Prairie Township & City of Beloit Lower Rock River East in Rock County and North Branch Little River in Oconto County.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance through innovative approaches to producers and landowners. NRCS provides assistance to producers through partnership agreements and through program contracts or easement agreements. Current active projects for water quality improvement are located within the Oconomowoc River, Yahara and Milwaukee River watersheds. RCPP funding is also available in the Driftless Area to improve fish and wildlife habitat, stream and riparian habitat, select counties in Northern Wisconsin to improve Golden-winged and Kirtland’s warbler habitats, and select areas of Southern Wisconsin to improve soil health and protect agriculturally productive farmland.
Landowners interested in applying for EQIP or RCPP funding should contact their local NRCS office at the USDA Service Center for their county. For more information, visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov.