Farmers and forest landowners will want to plan ahead and sign up early for USDA’s second round of conservation funding. Angela Biggs, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist in Wisconsin, announced farmers and forest landowners interested in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) need to apply by May 21, 2021, for funding in 2021. Applications are being taken at all USDA Service Centers in Wisconsin.
EQIP is the primary program available to farmers and landowners for farm and woodland conservation work, offering payments for over 120 basic conservation practices. Last year, Wisconsin received over $33 million in funds for EQIP practices.
“The new Farm Bill allow NRCS to support conservation that ensures cost-effective financial assistance for improved soil health, water and air quality and other natural resources benefits,” said Biggs. “By getting EQIP applications in early, NRCS staff will have time to visit individual farms and assist in planning conservation practice needs.”
All eligible applications received by May 21, 2021, will be evaluated, prioritized and ranked for funding in 2021. Farmers may contact their local USDA Service Center to get started on producer eligibility and planning. Biggs reminds farmers who are interested in practices that may require permits, such as manure storage or streambank restoration, to begin planning and seeking permits as soon as possible. Applicants with shovel-ready projects (designs completed and permit applications submitted) will receive a higher ranking.
Sign up for several special initiatives focusing on conservation efforts.
Special sign-up opportunities are also now open for Conservation Activity Plans, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Honey Bee, as well as several landscape-based initiatives. Special initiatives are also available for socially disadvantaged and other historically underserved customers at increased payment rates. All offer technical and financial assistance through EQIP.
Honey Bee: The upper Midwest is the resting ground for over 65 percent of commercially managed honey bees in the country. The NRCS is helping farmers and landowners implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. Pasture management, wildlife habitat and appropriate cover crops are used as tools to improve the health of our honey bees, which support more than $15 billion worth of agricultural production.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), NRCS offers financial assistance to agricultural producers for implementing practices that improve water quality in selected watersheds. Newly eligible watersheds for 2021 include the Pensaukee River, Oconto River and Peshtigo River. These watersheds are in addition to the existing Door-Kewaunee Rivers, Lower Fox River, Manitowoc-Sheboygan, Milwaukee River, Upper Fox River, Wolf River and Lake Winnebago watersheds.
National Water Quality Initiative: The National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) is designed to help individual agricultural producers take actions to reduce the runoff of sediment, nutrients and pathogens into waterways where water quality is a critical concern. The goal is to implement conservation practices in focused watersheds in a concentrated area so that agriculture no longer contributes to the impairment of water bodies within these priority watersheds. Eligible watersheds include Bear Lake-Little Wolf River in Waupaca County and North Branch Little River in Oconto County.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners. NRCS provides assistance to producers through partnership agreements and through program contracts or easement agreements. Current active projects for water quality improvement are located within the Oconomowoc River watershed to improve water quality and projects to improve fish and wildlife habitat stream and riparian habitat in the Driftless Area.