California almond growers should act now to secure technical and financial assistance for integrating conservation practices into their operations and facilities in 2009.

Under the newly authorized farm bill, growers are likely to have additional cost-share funds in 2009 under the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to integrate conservation practices that address resource issues in the orchard. Rules on how those authorized funds will be distributed are still being finalized in Washington, D.C., but NRCS officials said the new farm bill is likely to contain increased funding for conservation.

The NRCS in California last year partnered with farmers and ranchers on a record $54 million in EQIP cost-share contracts. Contracts covered a broad spectrum of natural resource enhancements including water use efficiency, air quality, integrated pest management, and soil and water quality.

Applications for EQIP are accepted year-round, but only applications received by Oct. 31, 2008, will be considered for the 2009 fiscal year.

Alan Forkey, program manager for EQIP in California, encouraged almond growers to call their local NRCS office and develop a conservation plan with the help of an NRCS staffer as an important first step in the application process. Specialists will examine soil, water, air, and biological resources in the orchard and help growers decide on strategies for improving conditions. They then match those strategies with NRCS programs that can help growers meet conservation goals within the operation.

Forkey noted that the application process is competitive, and a conservation plan that addresses at least one comprehensive resource issue may be given higher priority for funding approval.

Below is a list of the types of improvements that may be eligible statewide for cost-share funds under NRCS EQIP:

• Irrigation improvements, such as low-volume systems or tail-water return systems.

• Water quality practices such as nutrient management programs, filter strips or other practices that reduce runoff.

• Erosion and sediment control practices.

• Diesel irrigation pump motor replacements.

• Integrated pest management.

• Wildlife habitat and insectary plantings to attract native pollinators and other beneficial insects.

In addition, cost-share grants are available for a number of practices that address air quality within the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. These practices might include:

• Smart sprayer technology: Retrofit of sprayers with weed sensors or tree sensors to reduce pesticide applications.

• Oiling of farm roads for dust control.

• Conservation tillage.

• Chipping of almond prunings and tree removals.

For more information on EQIP contact your county NRCS office or log onto www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/eqip.