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How the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Works in Maine

2014 Environmental Quality Incentives Program Application Information   

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary conservation program managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). It supports production agriculture and environmental quality as compatible goals. Through EQIP, agricultural and forest producers may receive financial and technical help to address resource conservation needs on eligible lands. EQIP is a competitive program, with projects ranked to fund the most environmentally beneficial projects at each of Maine's 14 service centers.

EQIP provides financial assistance in the form of a fixed payment rate for each eligible practice and activity under contract. The payment rate will be the compensation for the program participant.

Eligibility

Any private agricultural or forest producer engaged in livestock, crop or forest production on eligible land may apply for EQIP. Eligible land includes cropland (including hayland), pastureland, private non-industrial forestland, and other farm lands as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Eligibility Criteria

In order to be eligible to sign up for EQIP, the applicant must be determined to be an eligible producer by NRCS. If you are a new USDA program applicant, please contact your local USDA Service Center for information on eligibility requirements. If you have been a USDA program participant in the past, please contact your local USDA Service Center to review and update your information.

The land offered for EQIP must also be determined eligible by NRCS. Eligible land under the EQIP program is land that has a resource concern identified by a certified conservation planner that can be addressed through application of the conservation practices eligible for this signup period.

The participant must complete and sign all necessary forms including the CCC-1200 (which is the official application). Financial assistance is contingent on the producer not starting a practice prior to having an approved EQIP contract signed by the appropriate NRCS representative.

Input from Outside Groups, Agencies, and Citizens

A key component of the delivery of EQIP in Maine is the input and recommendations of both the Maine State Technical Committee and each of the 15 USDA Local Working Groups. Their input will ensure that state and local priority resource concerns will be reflected along with national priorities in delivering EQIP.

The list of eligible practices for the county-wide signups, county ranking criteria, eligible resource concerns, and payment rates and limits are based on input from the USDA Local Working Group. Local Working Group membership should be diverse and focus on agricultural interests and natural resource issues existing in the local community. Membership includes agricultural producers representing the variety of crops and livestock and/or poultry raised within the local area; owners of nonindustrial private forest land, as appropriate; representatives of agricultural and environmental organizations; and representatives of governmental agencies carrying out agricultural and natural resource conservation programs and activities.

Locally-Led Conservation Program Delivery

Each USDA Local Working Group in Maine has contributed to a resource assessment and identified resource concerns and conservation priorities in its specific area. Based on that assessment, objectives for the use of EQIP funds have been determined. Each USDA Local Working Group has input in the ranking worksheet and has an opportunity to add local ranking factors that reflect the locally-identified natural resource concerns along with national and state priorities.

Application Process

Application information and details about eligible practices and payment rates are available by USDA Service Center Area. Applications for enrollment in EQIP are accepted on a continuous basis. However, each year a sign-up cutoff date will be established in order to batch a group of applications together for funding consideration in a given year. Applications that are received after the established cutoff date will be considered for the following funding year. Applications are then screened using an established set of screening questions. Applications which pass the screening will be marked as high priority, ranked and considered for funding. Applicants whose applications do not pass the screening will be contacted and informed what they may need to do to make their application eligible for funding consideration in future sign-ups. Landowners with high priority applications will be contacted by the NRCS field staff for the purpose of gathering data to rank the application. Typically this will involve a field visit.

Agricultural producers accepted into EQIP will enter into a contract with NRCS. EQIP offers contracts for practice implementation from one to ten years. These contracts provide financial assistance for implementing conservation practices. Additionally, producers will be responsible for securing all necessary permits and NRCS will complete environmental and cultural resource reviews before an EQIP application moves forward into the contracting phase.

Ranking Criteria

Ranking of applications will be done in each of Maine's 15 USDA Service Center areas. The NRCS field staff will evaluate each eligible application. The ranking criteria have been developed with input from the State Technical Committee plus the USDA Local Working Group and will reflect National, State and local priorities. Maine's ranking criteria keys on Field Office Technical Guide resource concerns and quality criteria. Evaluation and ranking of applications will only be completed after NRCS field staff has completed the conservation planning process with a landowner. Higher priority will be given to applications that use cost-effective conservation practices, address national, state and local priority resource concerns, and provide long-lasting, environmental benefit.

Eligible Conservation Practices

Designated Conservationists, with input and recommendations from the USDA Local Working Group, have identified eligible practices and determined rates of payment rates for eligible practices.

Allocation of Funds

Program allocations are made to each of the 15 USDA Service Centers. Allocations are determined by a formula which takes into account three factors. These are: 1. the total demand in dollars of all ranked applications as a proportion of the total state demand, 2. the total number of landowners represented by those applications as a proportion of the entire state, and 3. the implementation rate of prior year contracts relative to the state’s implementation rate.  Funds are allocated into locally-identified resource pools. These include: Cropland, Pasture, Animal Waste, Forestry and Wildlife. Other resource areas may be included if recommended by the USDA Local Working Group. Each of these will represent its own pool for ranking and selection purposes.

At the Service Center level, each USDA Local Working Group will recommend funding targets (as a percent of their total allocation) for each of the resource concern areas being addressed at their locale.

In addition to the county level allocations, state-wide funding for National and State initiatives will be announced from time to time. The application and ranking process will be identical to the county level program delivery except that the timelines may be different.

Biosecurity Issues

All NRCS personnel entering the farm, as a minimum, will wear disposable footwear while on site. At the end of the visit the footwear will be left at the site at a location of the producer's choosing for proper disposal to prevent any contamination. NRCS employees will implement additional biosecurity practices as required by the producer’s biosecurity plan.


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For more information contact your local USDA Service Center.

Statewide Program Contact: Susan Arrants, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, 207-990-9564 or email susan.arrants@me.usda.gov