Center publishes expanded resources on USDA conservation programs
Rural farms and ranches have a reciprocal relationship with their environment. Soil health, sufficient water, and proper temperatures all have a part in bringing crops or animals to fruition.
Too often, agriculture practices cause our environment to tire, leading to the use of more inputs and higher costs to produce food. This doesn’t need to be the case. When agriculture is coupled with conservation practices, it can return nutrients to the soil and create an environment in which the land is replenished to grow food. These are the results we often see when farmers and ranchers use working lands conservation practices, such as planting cover crops, installing pollinator habitats, or using rotational grazing practices. Unfortunately, while these techniques are beneficial they are not the norm, and they require financial resources and expanded knowledge to implement.
Luckily, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers conservation programs that can be a valuable tool for farmers and ranchers. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provide farmers and ranchers with financial technical assistance to put these practices in place. EQIP is designed for producers who are most likely new to conservation, including beginning farmers and ranchers. CSP is for producers already implementing conservation who are looking to expand their efforts.
The challenge is that these programs are often difficult to enroll in, especially for farmers from underrepresented communities and for those who speak a language other than English. Applications can be complex and take valuable time to complete.
Because of this, the Center for Rural Affairs has produced a set of bilingual resources to expand access to these vital programs. The Center offers fact sheets (https://www.cfra.org/publications/implementingconservation) and informational videos (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9NBqc8bkuZWi6-jsKR8dMXH-whgrkZr_) on six topics related to eligibility requirements and application processes for CSP and EQIP. These tools also detail how payments are structured and when they are distributed.
In addition to the basics of EQIP and CSP, these resources include information applicants may be unaware of. For instance, EQIP includes special initiatives to aid in the purchase of high tunnels and assist organic growers. Both of these programs can help beginning farmers interested in growing specialty crops.
The resources can also help producers understand the basics of working with USDA Service Centers, including how to prepare for your first appointment and how to get a farm number. Information is included on how socially disadvantaged farmers, such as veterans and farmers of color, can receive specific benefits in the application and payment process. For example, payments for EQIP are awarded on a reimbursement basis but farmers from these groups have the option of applying for advanced payments.
The Center for Rural Affairs will continue to promote these programs with the goal of expanding access and implementing further conservation efforts in our region.