The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Arizona will review all applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) received by Jan. 30. This is an extension from the previous deadline of Dec. 5.

"We are anticipating the publication of interim final rules for EQIP and WHIP very soon which will allow us to move forward with the 2009 programs," said David McKay, NRCS state conservationist. The new rules will include legislative changes made as a result of the 2008 farm bill.

Agriculture producers are encouraged to apply throughout the year for EQIP, WHIP, and other farm bill programs administered by NRCS.

"The Jan. 30 deadline is simply so we set a time to review and rank applications for funding," said McKay. "Farmers and ranchers can apply whenever they are ready to plan improvements to their land's natural resources."

A number of changes and additions are in the 2008 farm bill. With EQIP, new items include:

• Authorization for increased payments for socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers in addition to beginning and limited resource producers — up to 90 percent;

• Allows these individuals to receive in advance up to 30 percent of the amount needed for purchasing materials or contracting;

- Assistance to organic production: payments for conservation practices related to organic production up to $20,000 per year or $80,000 during any 6-year period;

- The overall payment limitation is reduced to $300,000 per person or legal entity over a six-year period. The secretary of agriculture may raise the limitation to $450,000 for projects of special environmental significance, including those involving methane digesters.

NRCS-AZ will cost-share approved contracts at 75 percent, with 90 percent for beginning, limited resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

The goal of EQIP is to help agricultural producers in a manner that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals. WHIP can assist any private landowner to develop and improve high quality wildlife habitat. Both programs offer financial and technical assistance.

NRCS has 24 field offices throughout Arizona with experts ready to help farmers and ranchers get the best use out of the land's natural resources. Visit the Web at www.az.nrcs.usda.gov to learn more about NRCS.