Contact: Duane Hovorka (402) 994-2021
The Center for Rural Affairs is re-activating its Conservation Options Hotline
to assist farmers and ranchers wanting to enroll in the Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP), the new Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the
Conservation Farm Option (CFO).
Duane Hovorka of Elmwood, NE will staff the hotline and notes, "The 1996 Farm
Bill made major changes in the popular CRP and completely reformed the
conservation cost share and incentive payments programs. The new USDA programs
provide a variety of tools for achieving conservation on the farm. Land
retirement, incentive payments, and grants for testing and demonstrating
innovative conservation ideas are opportunities for farmers to achieve their
Hovorka continues, "Because the programs are new and rules are very different
than in the past, we expect some confusion over how the programs are to work."
The Conservation Options Hotline is a service of the Center for Rural
Affairs, of Wathill, NE, in cooperation with the Midwest Sustainable
Group, a network of grassroots sustainable agriculture, environmental, church,
rural and food organizations.
The Conservation Options Hotline telephone number is (402) 994-2021.
Background on Conservation Programs
CRP - New Ground Rules: The CRP has been a popular program with farmers but not
as cost effective as it could be. The farm bill continued the program but
Congress has clearly stated that future enrollments must get the maximum
environmental benefit for the money. The program will maximize environmental
benefit per dollar spent by encouraging partial field enrollments with high
environmental value and reforming rental payment rates.
Partial field enrollments are encouraged through continuous enrollment and bonus
payments. In the past farmers could only sign-up for the CRP a few times a
year. Bonus payments would encourage enrollments by compensating farmers for
taking what is likely to be highly productive land out of production and the
increased management to maintain the practice that has made it difficult to
enroll these practices in the past. Partial field practices include
filterstrips, riparian buffers, contour grass strips, shelterbelts, field
windbreaks, living snow fences, grassed waterways, salt-tolerant vegetation, and
shallow areas for wildlife.
Rental payments will be reformed by bringing them closer to average cash rents
in a county.
The New Game: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) - consolidates
existing conservation programs into a single program. EQIP contracts will cover
five to ten years.
What does EQIP Provide?
* technical assistance
* cost-share payments
* incentive payments
Who is Eligible?
* crop farms / moderate-scale livestock farms
* $10,00 for any fiscal year
* $50,000 for a multi-year contract
EQIP Funding Split Between Projects and Individual Requests: States are to
submit priority areas or projects within a specific geographic area as well as
more general natural resource concerns for the state. For example, last summer
in Nebraska, Natural Resources Districts were asked to identify priority area
projects for EQIP funds, and to identify general natural resources concerns for
their district. Projects and natural resources concerns were also identified by
participants on the State Technical Committee. Funding will be split between
priority area projects (65%), and statewide natural resource concerns (35%) for
applications outside of a priority area.
Funding for Livestock Operations: 50% ($100 million) of EQIP funds are to go to
livestock producers. The livestock portion of EQIP also addresses soil erosion
concerns, forage health, water quality etc. Practices such as rotational
grazing, composting, aerobic digestion, dry bedding, and various methods of land
application that prevent erosion and incorporate nutrients at agronomic rates
should be eligible for cost sharing under EQIP.
Participation Requirements: (1) EQIP contracts are to be for five to ten years;
(2) EQIP contracts will include conservation plans approved by the Secretary of
Conservation Farm Option (CFO): This new program was created to foster
innovation in natural resource protection and enhancement including soil and
water conservation; water quality improvement; wetlands restoration, protection,
and creation; wildlife habitat development and protection; and other similar
conservation purposes. CFO contracts and payments run for 10 years. The program
is designed as a "one plan, one sign up, one check" option that is not
restricted by exisiting conservation program rules and will be administered as a
competitive grants program.