New federal investments in the USDA’s conservation programs make this year the best in recent memory to secure a new contract through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Thanks to last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making available $850 million for its oversubscribed conservation programs including EQIP, CSP, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The increased funding levels begin in fiscal year 2023 and will build rapidly over the next four years.
In both CSP and EQIP, IRA funds will be targeted at conservation practices and activities on this list created by NRCS, and farmers implementing them will be first in line for IRA funding. These farmers may be awarded CSP and EQIP contracts faster than producers implementing conservation practices that are not on the list.
How To Apply
NRCS accepts producer applications for its conservation programs year-round, but producers interested in EQIP or CSP should apply by their state’s ranking dates to be considered for funding in the current cycle. (The 2023 ranking dates in California are March 17 and April 14 for CSP and March 17 and April 3 for EQIP.)
Funding is provided through a competitive process and will include an opportunity to address the unmet demand from producers who have previously sought funding for climate-smart conservation activities.
For ACEP Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE) or Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE), applications for the current IRA funding cycle must be submitted by March 17, 2023, for the first funding round. This year, to prevent the release of soil carbon stores, NRCS will prioritize ACEP-ALE for grasslands in areas of highest risk for conversion to non-grassland uses. Meanwhile, NRCS will prioritize ACEP-WRE for eligible lands that contain soils high in organic carbon.
NRCS plans to roll out the next RCPP funding opportunity in early spring, which will include IRA funds from fiscal year 2023.
Other opportunities for agreements and partnerships at the state level will be announced for fiscal year 2023 in the coming months. The IRA provides funding to support those strategic partnerships with local, regional, and national organizations. This will include outreach to underserved producers to ensure IRA climate funding for those previously unable to access conservation assistance.
This article is adapted from an announcement issued by USDA on February 13, 2023, and a blog by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) on February 24, 2023.