NRCS Releases EQIP Final Rule
Washington, DC, October 23rd, 2020 – Today, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released its final rule for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). For decades, EQIP has helped farmers and ranchers improve the quality of the lands and waters they steward by providing financial help for specific projects or installations that address natural resource concerns.
While imperfect, the EQIP rule does contain a number of useful provisions that enhance the program. Several of these changes reflect recommendations submitted by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in comments to NRCS in February 2020 upon the release of the EQIP interim final rule (IFR). Positive elements of the rule include:
Upholding the intended purpose of EQIP to help farmers and ranchers proactively conserve their resources rather than focusing solely on subsidizing the regulated community
Defining assistance related to organic production as an EQIP purpose
Affirming the need for farmers to build soil health and climate resilience as national priorities within EQIP
Reassurance that the EQIP advanced payment will be automatically applied to all underserved applicants
While these are important improvements, there are a number of points on which the new rule represents a missed opportunity to ensure that EQIP helps small and midsize farmers and ranchers maximize their conservation benefit for generations to come. These include:
Illegally doubling the payment rate for EQIP contracts from $450,000 to $900,000 for large farms owned by general partnerships
Letting CAFOs off the hook when it comes to achieving good nutrient management — asking them as a requirement for receiving EQIP funding to put together a nutrient management plan but not requiring them to achieve it
Refusing to specifically help EQIP producers address resource concerns in a way that would facilitate their graduation into the Conservation Stewardship Program
“NRCS had the opportunity to help EQIP better serve farmers and ranchers and conserve resources across the country through the comments they received,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “We appreciate that NRCS seized some of these opportunities, but we are disappointed that they passed on others, leaving us with a program that does less for our farmers and ranchers than it could.”
NSAC has long supported the goals of EQIP and will continue to advocate for a program that better matches the intent of Congress and serves the farmers who are on the leading edge of addressing the climate crisis and protecting our soil and water resources.
–National Sustainable Ag Coalition
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