With funding increasing from $1.2 billion in 2008 to $1.75 billion pledged for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Improvement Program, demand still will outstrip available monies.

“That’s still not enough,” says Tim Beard, financial Assistance Division, USDA NRCS.

Beard, speaking at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City, Fla., said most states have waiting lists of EQIP projects to be funded. Under the 2008 farm bill, the EQIP funding schedule increased, starting at that $1.2 billion mark for 2008. For 2009, the program is set to receive $1.3 billion, then $1.45 billion in 2010, $1.51 billion in 2011 and $1.75 billion in 2012.

End users have more say in how those funds will be applied, too, Beard said. “It’s no longer just federal agencies. The committee includes individual agricultural producers; scientists; federal, state and local government representatives; professors and representatives from Indian tribes.”

He said changes in EQIP give producers “more flexibility to install and maintain conservation practices that sustain food and fiber production.” But some payment levels have been reduced. Changes include a lower adjusted gross income limit, down to $1 million. Payment limit is dropped from $450,000 to $300,000.

“Payment for technical assistance will not be included in the $300,000 limitation,” he said. “Also, a special environmentally significant waiver may waive the $300,000 limitation.”

He said priority may be given for applications to improve existing conservation practices or systems. Applications also will be grouped when possible to put similar kinds of operations in the same pool. “Crops will compete against other crop projects and livestock will compete against other livestock applications.”

He said special considerations may be available for organic producers.

Water conservation and irrigation efficiency funds will be available “primarily to reduce water use. Landowners must agree not to use water savings to bring new land under irrigation,” Beard said.

Under-served producers, such as beginning farmers or socially disadvantaged farmers, also may get more attention.

A new initiative, the Conservation Stewardship Program approved in the last farm bill, is now available for sign-up.

Beard emphasized that the Conservation Stewardship Program is voluntary, allowing landowners to take on additional conservation practices to improve and maintain existing projects. The new effort includes financial and technical assistance from NRCS.

The program would offer annual payments to install and adopt additional conservation measures.

He also discussed supplemental payments for adoption of resource-conserving crop rotation systems.

“Eligibility depends on three criteria,” Beard said. Those are:

• The rotation plan should cover at least three years.

• At least one-third of the acreage in the program must be planted to rotation crops each year.

• All participating acres must be in the rotation system by the third year.

Rotation options include perennial grasses, legumes, high residue crops and green manures.

Beard said sign-up would begin as soon as OMB approves the rules. “We have no payment rate established yet,” he said. “But that will be available at the time of sign-up.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com