Lincoln E. Burton, state conservationist for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in California has announced the statewide distribution of conservation cost share contracts has been completed.

According to Burton, 1,236 farmers and ranchers would receive contracts totaling nearly $43.5 million under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

"The EQIP program has proven to be a very popular and successful way for USDA to partner with agricultural producers to cosponsor environmental benefits such as air quality, water quality, water conservation, soil protection and wildlife habitat," said Burton.

"It is always heartening to see how much enthusiasm there is for this voluntary program and to watch these projects unfold on the land," continued Burton, "but this year will be especially exciting due to the accelerated timeframe that we've been able to commit to. Eighty percent of the contracts have already been given the go-ahead for work to begin-and that allows critical work to get done in time for this growing season. In the past we haven't been able to achieve this level of contract completion until late July or even September." Burton says the agency intends to continue with the accelerated timeframe in future years.

While a broad range of conservation practices protecting air, water, soil, and wildlife were funded in California in every county except Alpine and San Francisco, almost a quarter of all funds went to dairy producers in 2006.

Burton had pledged $10 million last fall in a concerted effort to assist dairies and other confined animal producers with water quality needs they have related to manure management. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program was reauthorized in the 2002 Farm Bill and is a voluntary program that provides assistance to farmers and ranchers to protect soil, water, air, and related natural resources on their land. Typically the cost of practices is shared 50:50 between NRCS and the producer.