EQIP: Funding for Farm Conservation

What is EQIP?

EQIP is a farm funding program that enables producers to adopt conservation on the farm. It’s a national program that’s administered at the state level. Over one billion dollars are devoted to the program annually, with the average farmer or rancher netting $30,000 from an annual EQIP contract. 

EQIP stands for “Environmental Quality Incentives Program” and is offered through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

If you’re a farmer or rancher looking for funding related to a farm conservation, soil health, water quality or air quality initiative, EQIP might be right for you! One thing to note – you need to have a project in mind that addresses a resource concern (something related to soil, water, air quality or animal health/husbandry) in order to be competitive for EQIP. We break down some of the nuances below. Sign up for FarmRaise today if you want to talk through EQIP with a member of our team.

7 key points for every producer to consider

  1. You have to have some skin in the game.
    • When you apply for EQIP, you’re applying to establish a contract in which you receive technical and financial assistance to implement specific farm conservation practices. Those practices are outlined in “Conservation Practice Standards” that every state NRCS office releases each year.
    • EQIP contracts are structured as cost-share, where the NRCS will reimburse participating producers for 75% of the implemented practice cost. Beginning and underserved producers may receive up to 90% cost-share, rather than the standard 75% rate.
    • Beginning farmers can apply to receive an advance of half of the funding of the project or practice.
  2. After applying, USDA-NRCS representatives will have access to your land, but they have to give notice before visiting.
    • There are three scenarios when a USDA-NRCS representative might come to visit your farm. They are required to give you advanced noticed before they come out.
      • The first situation is when you initially apply for EQIP, the NRCS will send a representative to meet you and walk the land. They’ll want to know where you want to place a specific project or practice on the land.
      • The second situation is after you install the practice, NRCS will come to observe and verify that the installation is complete in line with the contract specifications.
      • The third situation is that NRCS may come out for a random spot check to see how things are going with the project, but this is not often done.
  3. Specifications for each practice or project need to be met in order to receive funds.
    • As mentioned above, each EQIP contract is for a specific practice or project that must conform to the NRCS practice standards. Your state NRCS office will have a list of all applicable practices and their corresponding standards. At FarmRaise, we can help you identify which practices are the best fit for your operation, so that you can be more competitive and ready when you submit your paperwork.
    • One piece of feedback farmers often give NRCS about these practice standards is that they can be limiting. For example, if you want to plant a cover crop, the NRCS may be prescriptive in which cover crop you can plant and when. Do not let this be a barrier to participating in this program – if you’re concerned about this, a conversation with your local NRCS representative about what you want to do is the best path forward.
  4. There’s no set deadline, but applications are batched for consideration each year.
    • If you want a shot at EQIP, you need to apply before the batching deadline for that year, which usually ranges from November to February, depending on the state. 
    • Some states have multiple batching deadlines, so if you miss the first one for a given year, you may have a second shot to make it into the funding pool.
    • Regardless of when the batching deadlines are, we encourage farmers to submit their application for EQIP as soon as you can.
  5. It’s a resource concern ranking game.
    • EQIP is competitive. About 25% of annual applications receive funding on average, and that’s not because they aren’t worth funding.
    • The most competitive applications address existing resource concerns on the land.
    • The strongest applicants are those that already have a solid idea for a project that is also in line with the priority resource concerns of the state. 
  6. The time from application to award notification is about 3 to 6 months.
    • NRCS evaluates all applications after the batching deadline and typically makes decisions about which projects to fund within 3 months of that batching deadline. If you apply for EQIP in December, but the batching deadline is in January, you may have to wait about 4 months before hearing back about your proposal.
    • Keep in mind that NRCS, like any government program, can face delays caused by federal and state agency dynamics, lack of staff, weather emergencies or global pandemics.
  7. The application requires that you have up-to-date FSA records and that you complete a conservation program application.
    • EQIP is not the most complicated USDA program to apply for, but it does require you to fill out several different forms about your farm income status, your land’s highly erodible and wetland status, and your farm’s structure, in addition to your conservation program application. To apply, contact your local USDA service center and ask for an EQIP application.
    • If you don’t want to go it alone, FarmRaise has streamlined the forms required for EQIP into one, simple common application that takes less than 20 minutes to complete. Our team then helps you prioritize practices in line with NRCS’s standards and helps you submit to the right stakeholders at your county office. You can apply, if you’re eligible, through the FarmRaise platform. Simply take our 2-minute eligibility quiz, set up your free account, and start applying today from the comfort of your home or office.

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