USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the sign-up for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative. While this is a continuous sign-up process, NRCS will close this ranking period on May 20, 2011, so get your applications in by that deadline to be considered for a contract this year.
2011 EQIP OI Snapshot:
- $50 million has been allocated.
- The ranking cut-off for this year is May 20, 2011 so have your applications in by that date.
- Existing certified organic farmers and farmers transitioning to organic production are eligible.
- Applicants who applied in 2010 and were deferred will receive a letter from NRCS with information about having their applications reconsidered in 2011.
- The Organic Initiative no longer has “6 core” practices, and headquarters has provided guidance to states for how to select conservation practices for the Initiative.
- The program payment rate for the Organic Initiative is 75% and, for historically underserved participants, which includes beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, 90%.
- As provided by law, there is a $20,000 per year ($80,000 over 6 years) payment limit for applications in the EQIP Organic Initiative.
- The Organic Initiative is administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is available in all states and all counties through local field offices. To find your local office, click here. Click on your state and then on your county to find the contact information.
The national guidance documents are available here (12.9 MB). This includes a lot of information. Please note, there are 2 screening criteria worksheets – one for those who are already certified organic and a separate one for those who are transitioning to organic for the first time.
HOW THE APPLICATION PROCESS WORKS
To sign up, farmers must go to their local field offices and speak with a staff person there. They will have to fill out an NRCS-CPA-1200 application to sign up officially; whatever information farmers cannot fill out on their own, they should fill out with the help of NRCS staff.
Applicants who are existing organic farmers will have to submit a copy of the current Organic System Plan (OSP) with their application. NRCS will use the OSP to verify compliance with provisions in the statute and as the basis for the EQIP Plan of Operations. The applicant must also provide the name and contact information of the USDA-accredited certifying agent for the operation.
Applicants who are transitioning to organic production will have to submit a “self-certification” letter that includes a statement that the applicant “agrees to develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production that are consistent with an organic system plan”and the name of the USDA-accredited certifying agent contacted to begin the certification process.
NRCS List of Organic Points-of-Contact for NRCS in Each State
NRCS has provided a list of points of contact for organics in each state. You can view that contact list here.
The Initiative provides EQIP conservation payments to existing certified organic farmers and those transitioning to organic production. These include:
- Farmers just beginning to transition to certified organic production.
- Farmers already in the process of transitioning to certified organic production.
- Existing certified organic farmers who are transitioning additional acres or herds.
- Existing certified organic farmers who need to adopt additional conservation measures to fully address particular natural resource and environmental concerns.
- Existing certified organic farmers who want to both transition additional production and adopt additional conservation measures on existing certified organic ground (a combination of the third and fourth bullet points).
DEFERRED 2009 APPLICANTS
NRCS will provide deferred applicants with information about the opportunity to have their applications reconsidered in 2011.
SPECIAL FUNDING POOLS
The EQIP Organic Initiative will be a separate funding pool from the general EQIP. Also, there will be two separate ranking pools under this Organic Initiative. They are as follows:
- Farmers who are transitioning without any current certified organic production.
- Farmers who are already certified organic and are either adding new transitional production or adopting new conservation measures on existing organic production.
While the Organic Initiative is a targeted initiative within EQIP, organic and transitioning farmers are eligible and can apply for regular EQIP funds. Farmers who choose to apply to regular EQIP will be competing in a larger pool of applicants and will be subject to higher payment limitations per contract than in the Organic Initiative.
TIMING AND DEADLINES
The deadline for the latest Organic Initiative sign-up is May 20, 2011.
EQIP is a continuous sign-up program. That means that farmers may submit applications to the program at any time. During the course of the year, NRCS establishes cut-off dates for ranking and award purposes. Applications that come in after cut-off dates go into the hopper for the next round.
CONSERVATION PRACTICES AND PAYMENTS
The 2009 Organic Initiative had “6 core” practices that farmers could apply for and which also had higher payment rates. Additionally, states could identify “facilitating” practices that were also considered part of the Initiative.
The 2010 Organic Initiative no longer mandates that states offer the 6 core practices. Instead, states must select which conservation practices will be offered under the Initiative. National headquarters has provided states with a comparison chart identifying conservation practices that align with National Organic Program requirements. States must advertise the conservation practices offered through the Organic Initiative.
States must develop separate payment schedules for the 2011 Organic Initiative. States have received guidance on how to develop payment schedules taking into consideration the income foregone and costs incurred specific to organic and transitioning operations. There are no longer payment “multipliers” that existed in the 2009 iteration of the Initiative.
Once states have developed their payment schedules for the Initiative, they must submit them for review to economists at national headquarters, where they will either be approved or adjusted as needed.
CONSERVATION ACTIVITY PLAN AND PAYMENT
A few states have given transitioning farmers the option to sign up for the Initiative to develop a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP). In general, a CAP is a specialized conservation practice(s) plan that may require a higher level of expertise than typical NRCS staff is able to provide and does not fall under the regular technical assistance provided by NRCS.
The participant must hire a Certified Technical Service Provider (see below) to develop a CAP in order to be eligible for NRCS financial assistance. A CAP must be approved in a participant’s contract as a financial assistance item in order for the participant to receive payment for development of a CAP. Once the Technical Service Provider (TSP) completes the CAP, the participant pays the TSP for the service and requests the payment from NRCS for completing the contracted item.
Specific to this Initiative, a “Conservation Plan Supporting Organic Transition” CAP will provide financial assistance to pay for the conservation planning portion of the Organic Systems Plan required for organic certification. The CAP option does not apply to existing certified organic producers.
The payment amount for the CAP will be set independently by the state offices. State offices will be looking for information on the costs associated with developing a CAP for organic transition to determine the payment amount. NRCS will be able to pay up to 75% of the cost. For beginning farmers and ranchers and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, NRCS will pay up to 90% of the cost. The value of the CAP payment will count against the $20,000 per year payment limit.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND TECHNICAL SERVICE PROVIDERS
NRCS provides assistance in the form of technical assistance (TA) to farmers to implement conservation practices on their lands through NRCS’ conservation programs. NRCS provides TA for developing a conservation plan, outreach and education, and for engineering and putting in place conservation practices.
For many activities, NRCS has people on staff to provide TA. There are instances, however, when NRCS staff is not capable of providing TA. Implementation of organic practices and transition to organic agriculture are likely to fall into this category, given that many NRCS offices have close to no experience working with organic farmers. To address this problem, NRCS depends upon Technical Service Providers (TSP) to provide technical assistance.
Technical Service Providers are people not on NRCS staff who can provide technical expertise on any number of conservation practices. See our flyer on becoming a TSP here. An individual interested in becoming a TSP must apply for TSP certification through the NRCS webpage dedicated to TSPs. Nebraska is urgently looking for more TSPs to help with this sign-up. Find out more here.
For More Information: Contact Traci Bruckner, Assistant Policy Director, Center for Rural Affairs, 402.687.2103 x 1016 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Center for Rural Affairs offers a Farm Bill Helpline to assist farmers and ranchers with programs such as this one.