Applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are being accepted for funding in fiscal year 2010 from now through Jan. 15, 2010, at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices throughout California. Conservation cost-share programs provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers for natural resource improvements.

Two parts of EQIP have an extended sign-up period, the organic initiative and combustion engine emissions reduction initiative. These two facets of EQIP are only in their second year and producers may need extra time to enroll. The engine emissions reduction portion has $13.4 million available and the organic initiative has $2.4 million available. Sign-up is open until Jan. 29 for both special initiatives.

“All farm bill programs provide agriculture producers an incentive to improve the environment and the functionality of their operations, but EQIP is our flagship conservation program," says NRCS State Conservationist Ed Burton. "Combined with technical assistance and conservation planning, EQIP has had a crucial impact on California’s farms and ranches."

In fiscal year 2009, California NRCS worked with farmers and ranchers on $77 million of conservation contracts, setting a new record high in the state. The contracts covered a broad spectrum of natural resource enhancements including increasing irrigation efficiency; nutrient and manure management on dairies; grazing land management; riparian buffers and wildlife habitat; wetland protection; forest management and more. Assistance can be in the form of structures and conservation "hardware" such as irrigation or manure management facilities, as well as incentive payments for proper management to achieve environmental benefits.

Applications for EQIP are accepted year around. However, for initial funding consideration during fiscal year 2010, applications received by Jan. 15, will be given first priority. To view EQIP information, visit to the California NRCS Web site: www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.