Conservation cost share applications for the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are being accepted for funding consideration in fiscal year 2009 from now through Nov. 2 at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices throughout California. The program, providing financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers for natural resource improvements, received a record $53,959,920 in funding in California for 2008.

"We begin this fiscal year with the promise of a newly minted farm bill that carries a strong conservation title,” says NRCS State Conservationist Ed Burton. “All of our programs provide helpful tools for balancing agricultural productivity with natural resource protection but EQIP is our flagship conservation program. Combined with technical assistance and conservation planning, EQIP has had a huge impact on the California landscape and I expect these benefits to continue and expand in the next year and forward into this farm bill.”

In fiscal year 2008 California NRCS partnered with farmers and ranchers on nearly $54 million in conservation cost share contracts, setting a new record for the program 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. Burton said he expects similar priorities and projects in the coming round of EQIP sign ups that are now underway.

“Although we are still waiting for the program rules that will come from Washington D.C., by collecting applications now we can write the conservation plans and be well positioned to provide contracts to producers when rules are promulgated,” says Burton. Burton added that the new farm bill legislation for the EQIP program makes special reference to some agricultural groups, including organic and specialty crop producers, and that the Agency was open to pursuing new conservation practices that might help such producers with natural resource protection.

The 2008 farm bill, passed on May 22, 2008, included several conservation programs administered by NRCS and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. These include the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), The Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), the Farmland Protection Program (FPP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and others.

Many of the program details and procedures for farm bill programs will continue to be outlined in coming months as the program rules, written in Washington, D.C., become available for public comment.

Applications for EQIP are accepted year round. The Nov. 2 date reflects the cut off for funding consideration during the 2009 fiscal year.