By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana officials will have more than $26 million to share with farmers who participate in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), according to state conservation officials.
While producers may apply any time to participate in the program, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) occasionally sets deadlines in order to prioritize requests, officials said. Upcoming application deadlines in Indiana are Jan. 18 and March 15.
EQIP is a voluntary program that offers funding to farmers who agree to implement conservation practices on their land in order to protect natural resources. Eligible practices include nutrient and pasture management, field buffers, cover crops and reduced tillage. EQIP also provides technical assistance.
In fiscal year 2012, Indiana received $17.4 million in funding, though that figure is preliminary, according to Jill Reinhart, acting assistant state conservationist for farm bill programs. In 2011, the state received $19.1 million.
That the Hoosier State will receive increased funding in fiscal year 2013 shows “we have an interest in conservation in Indiana,” Reinhart said. “Whatever dollars we’re allocated, we put into the ground. One of the questions is, are they able to spend the money they’re given? As a state, we’ve been very successful.”
The state NRCS has worked with the Indiana Conservation Partnership, enabling officials to reach more producers, Reinhart noted. One of the top successes in fiscal year 2012 was the adoption of cover crops, she said.
When allocating funds, USDA officials look at several factors, including the number of producers and resource concerns, plus past performance, she said. EQIP was created as a part of the 1996 farm bill and funding was most recently reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill.
Nationally, almost $918 million will be available for the program, she stated. In addition to Indiana, other states in this region have announced deadlines and the amount of funding available for fiscal year 2013: Illinois, Jan. 18, March 15, May 17 (more than $11 million); Iowa, Feb. 15, April 19 (more than $25 million); Kentucky, Jan. 18, April 19 ($12.3 million); Ohio, Jan. 18, Feb. 15 (more than $13 million).
Although deadlines have not been set in Tennessee for 2013, an NRCS spokeswoman urged producers there to apply, as the state will receive more than $16 million for EQIP projects.
Michigan officials set a Jan. 18 deadline, though the state’s funding allocation for 2013 had not been finalized. Last year, it received more than $14 million.
EQIP is designed to assist producers and not hinder them, said Adam Heichelbech, Indiana’s EQIP specialist. “They’re protecting their natural resources and EQIP helps them do that while they’re still growing crops,” he said.
“EQIP helps our producers financially be able to protect our natural resources,” added Reinhart. “It helps alleviate the financial burden. It’s a working land program.”
Anyone who is an agricultural producer involved with crops or livestock is eligible to apply and there is no income threshold, Heichelbech said. The payment schedule is based on the type of conservation practice involved, Reinhart explained.
Historically, NRCS has paid 75 percent of the cost of various practices, but that may change, as a regional system is now in place to provide more consistency state to state, she noted.
For example, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio are in the Corn Belt region. Higher incentives are offered to some audiences, such as the socially disadvantaged, new farmers and those with limited resources, she noted.
EQIP also offers funding for four specific initiatives: high tunnels (or hoop houses), air quality, on-farm energy and organic. In addition, money is available under the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.
Interested producers should contact their local USDA service center, Reinhart said.
“Planning comes first,” she added. “They’ll walk the farm with the landowner and develop a conservation plan. A farmer may think a buffer strip is a good idea, but (USDA) may offer suggestions on other practices that may help too.”
For more information, visit www.in.nrcs.usda.gov in Indiana or www.nrcs.usda.gov for other states, and click on the Programs tab at the top.