Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Organic Initiative
Administered by the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative (EQIP OI) provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who are transitioning to organic systems and those already conducting organic practices and want to add acres and/or livestock or just improve their conservation.
Organic Systems: Providing Conservation Results and Opportunities for Family Farmers and Ranchers
West Blue Farm near Milford, NE is owned by Dave and Deb Welsch. Under the EQIP OI contract they will install cover crops, nutrient management and pest management practices.
They grow a lot of alfalfa and through soil tests have discovered they need to apply some lime.
Their pest management practices will involve some field scouting. They are looking forward to what they can learn from this and to see if it leads to any changes in their management decisions.
Dave and Deb also began integrating a beginning farmer into their operation a few years ago and he also applied for EQIP OI to put in the same practices described above. He has also applied for the regular EQIP program for some cost share on a water line to help with his intensive grazing program and the Welschs plan to do the same later this year.
EQIP OI is a provision under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). It is a continuous sign-up program with periodic ranking dates. There is typically $50 million available each year that is allocated to the states based on their share of land in agriculture production.
The assistance from NRCS through the EQIP OI helps producers plan and implement conservation practices to allow their organic operations to be environmentally sustainable. EQIP is primarily used to provide financial and technical assistance to implement conservation practices to address soil, water, air, plant, animal, and energy resources. The EQIP OI targets organic producers and producers transitioning to organic production. Basic things to remember are:
- Assistance is for conservation practices related to organic production
- Assistance is limited to $20,000 per year and $80,000 during a six year period
- Producers are required to develop and carry out an Organic System Plan (OSP) or carry out practices consistent with an OSP
- Producers must be pursing an organic certification or in compliance with their organic certification
EQIP OI supports several conservation practices and focuses on the ones that align with the National Organic Program. Each state created a payment schedule so you can see what the payment rates for the conservation practices would be under this organic initiative. That information should be posted on your state NRCS website.
EQIP OI also contains a special set-aside for beginning farmers and ranchers. NRCS sets aside 5 percent of the total funds specifically for beginning farmers and ranchers so those applicants are only competing against each other. To see if you meet the Beginning Farmer and Rancher definition, click here.
As noted above, eligible farmers and ranchers include the following:
- Farmers and ranchers transitioning to organic for the first time;
- Existing certified organic farmers and ranchers who are transitioning additional acres and/or livestock to their organic system;
- Farmers and ranchers who are already 100% organic but want to add new conservation practices to their system to fully address particular natural resource and environmental concerns;
- and 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 point)
Existing Organic Farmers
Applicants that 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.
Farmers Transitioning to Organic Production Systems
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.
People are willing to pay more for food grown in an environmentally friendly manner such as organically. Many people today are also concerned about their health and the health of their families and believe it is important to at least limit, if not eliminate, their exposure to chemicals.
As a result, demand for organic products continues to increase, providing a market for farmers and ranchers willing to go the extra mile to establish themselves as organic.
This transition program is a huge step in helping those farmers make it through that three year transition period, which is often times the most challenging part, as well as provide additional support for adding even more conservation.
Ready to apply?
To apply for the program, farmers and ranchers must go to their local NRCS field office (Click on your state and then on your county to find the contact information.) and speak with a staff person there. You will need to fill out a basic application form, which is available here.(Link Opens PDF)
NRCS website includes program specific information here.
For list of Organic Points of Contact for NRCS in each state click here.