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Environment Quality Incentives Program- North Carolina

EQIP

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is NRCS’ flagship conservation program that helps farmers, ranchers and forest landowners integrate conservation into working lands.

Leafy Spurge, a noxious perennial weed, has been identified as one of the top natural resouce concerns in Teton County, MT.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary conservation program that helps producers in a way that makes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals.

Accepting Applications

EQIP applications are accepted on a continuous basis, however, NRCS establishes application "cut-off" or submission deadline dates for evaluation, ranking and approval of eligible applications. To be considered for current available funding, applicants should have their applications into the local field office by October 14,2022. EQIP is open to all eligible agricultural producers and submitted applications may be considered or evaluated in multiple funding pool opportunities. 

Benefits

Eligible program participants receive financial and technical assistance to implement conservation practices, or activities like conservation planning, that address natural resource concerns on their land. Payments are made to participants after conservation practices and activities identified in an EQIP plan of operations are implemented. Contracts can last up to ten years in duration.

Eligibility

Agricultural producers and owners of non-industrial private forestland are eligible to apply for EQIP. Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pastureland, non-industrial private forestland and other farm or ranch lands.

Socially disadvantaged, beginning and limited resource farmers, and veterans are eligible for an increased payment rate and may receive advance payment of 50 percent to purchase materials and services needed to implement conservation practices included in their EQIP contract.

Applicants must:  

  • Be engaged in agriculture or forestry and have a farm number and tract established with the Farm Service Agency
  • Comply with adjusted gross income limitation (AGI)  provisions
  • Control or own eligible land
  • Be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements
  • Develop an NRCS EQIP plan of operations

Additional restrictions and program requirements may apply. 

How to Apply / Accepting Applications

EQIP applications are accepted on a continuous basis, however, NRCS establishes application "cut-off" or submission deadline dates for evaluation, ranking and approval of eligible applications. EQIP is open to all eligible agricultural producers and submitted applications may be considered or evaluated in multiple funding pool opportunities. 

Visit your local USDA Service Center to apply or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted.

NRCS will help eligible producers develop an EQIP plan of operations, which will become the basis of the EQIP contract.

EQIP applications will be ranked based on a number of factors, including the environmental benefits and cost effectiveness of the proposal.

Decision Making Process for EQIP

Input from Outside Groups, Agencies, and Citizens: The list of eligible practices in North Carolina, payment rates and limits, eligible resource concerns, and state scoring criteria are developed based on input and recommendations from Landowners, Partners, and State Technical Committee (STC). The STC is made up of representatives from various agribusinesses, producer groups, conservation organizations, and federal, state, and tribal government agency representatives.

Participant Responsibilities

Applicants are responsible for completing and filing all application and eligibility paperwork as required. If funded, participants are required to sign a contract and agree to implement the planned conservation practices to NRCS standards and specifications as scheduled. Starting a practice prior to written contract approval will result in the ineligibility of that practice for EQIP assistance.

Socially Disadvantaged, Beginning, and Limited Resource Farmers/Ranchers, Military Veteran Farmers

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reminds historically underserved producers, who are participating in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), of the advance payment option. This option allows them to get conservation practice payments in advance of practice implementation. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to address natural resource concerns and to deliver environmental benefits, such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, and improved or created wildlife habitat. In fiscal 2020, NRCS invested $1.2 billion through EQIP to implement conservation practices on more than 8 million acres.

A historically underserved producer is described as one of the below:

  • Beginning Farmer or Rancher – is new to farming or ranching, or, has operated a farm or ranch for less than 10-consecutive years.
  • Socially Disadvantaged Farmer or Rancher – is a member of a group whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of that group without regard to their individual qualities.
  • Veteran Farmer or Rancher – has served in the armed forces and has not operated a farm or ranch, has operated a farm or ranch for less than 10-consecutive years, or first obtained veteran status during the last 10 years
  • Limited Resource Farmer or Rancher – has a household income at or below the national poverty level. Eligibility can be determined by using this online tool.

Under the advance payment option, such producers may request payments when they have final designs and job sheets and are ready to begin their EQIP practices. Advance payments provide 50 percent of the payment rate for each practice. The funds must be spent within 90 days of receipt and practices must be completed as agreed to in an EQIP plan of operations. Producers also may opt to have NRCS pay the contractors or vendors directly.

EQIP practices include vegetative practices, structural practices, management practices, and other improvements that further program goals such as conservation activity plans.  

Ranking Criteria for NRCS Programs – Fiscal Year 2023

Any applicant who has eligible land may submit an application for participation in ACEP, EQIP, CSP, or RCPP.  North Carolina will develop ranking criteria to prioritize and subsequently fund applications addressing priority natural resource concerns in the state.

Application reception periods and ranking deadlines will be set for all programs in order to select the highest ranked applications for funding, based on applicant eligibility and how well applications address the resource concern identified. In Fiscal Year 2023, NRCS will use the Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART) for all program ranking. 

The Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART) is designed to assist NRCS conservation planners as they assess site vulnerability, existing conditions, and identify potential resource concerns on a unit of land. CART results are then used to support conservation planning activities for the client. CART also captures this information to prioritize programs and report outcomes of NRCS investments in conservation.

CART is a decision support system designed to provide a consistent, replicable framework for the conservation planning process based on geospatially referenced information, client provided information, field observations as appropriate, and planner expertise. Site evaluations for existing management and conservation efforts are then compared to the quality criteria threshold to determine what level of conservation effort is needed to address resource concerns on the participant’s land.

In general, resource concerns fall into one of three categories for the assessment method used to assess and document a resource concern:

  • Client Input/Planner Observation: A streamlined list of options will be presented to the planner to document the client input and/or planner observation of present resource concerns. These observations will then be compared to the quality criteria threshold. Most of the Client Input or Planner Observation resource concerns will have a CART system threshold of 50. If the existing condition choice is below 50, then the assessment threshold is not met.
  • Procedural/Deductive: A large group of the remaining resource concerns fall into this category and usually reference a tool to assist with a determination or have a list of inventory-like criteria in the assessment. Due to the local variability in state tools, these choices will be broad in nature to allow states to more carefully align them with State conditions.  As above, many of these have a set threshold of 50, but may have variable thresholds for the same reasons as above.
  • Predictive: The remaining group of resource concerns are assessed using a type of predictive interactive model simulation. The CART systems attempt to replicate the outcomes related to the assessment threshold being met or not compared to the model outputs. Most of these have variable thresholds related to the intrinsic site conditions which reflect significant impacts on the model outputs.

After identifying resource concerns and answering existing condition questions, planned conservation practices and activities can be added to the existing condition to determine the state of the management system. Supporting practices may be necessary to support the primary conservation practices and activities and will be identified as necessary, but do not add conservation management points to the total. A comprehensive list of Conservation Practices and Activities and their points towards addressing each resource concern by land use is available as an attachment to this document.

If the client is interested in financial assistance, CART will directly and consistently transfer inventory and assessment information, along with client decisions related to conservation practice adoption, to the ranking tool to avoid duplication, increase prioritization on critical areas based on geospatial priorities and site-specific data, and provide better outcomes and a framework for continuous improvement.

CART will identify applicable financial assistance ranking pools to provide the most advantageous situation for the client and to help planners prioritize workload toward those clients who are most likely to receive funding.

CART Ranking Criteria will use the following guiding principles:

  • Degree of cost-effectiveness of the proposed conservation practices;
  • Magnitude of the environmental benefits resulting from the treatment of national priorities;
  • Reflecting the level of performance of proposed conservation practices;
  • Magnitude of the environmental benefits resulting from the treatment of priority resource concerns reflecting the level of performance of proposed conservation practices;
  • Treatment of multiple resource concerns; and
  • Compliance with Federal, state, local or tribal regulatory requirements with regards to natural resources.

CART will utilize a set of National Ranking Templates created by National Program Managers for all NRCS programs and initiatives. The National Ranking Templates contain four parameters that will be customized for each program to reflect the national level ranking priorities. The four parameters are:

  1. Land Uses - NRCS has developed land use designations to be used by planners and modelers at the field and landscape level. Land use modifiers more accurately define the land’s actual use and provide another level of specificity and help denote how the land is managed. Land use designations and modifiers are defined in GM180, Part 600 National Planning Procedures Handbook.
  2. Resource Concerns - An expected degradation of the soil, water, air, plant, or animal resource base to the extent that the sustainability or intended use of the resource is impaired. Because NRCS quantifies or describes resource concerns as part of a comprehensive conservation planning process, that includes client objectives, human and energy resources are considered components of the resource base.
  3. Practices - A specific treatment, such as a structural or vegetative measure, or management technique, commonly used to meet specific needs in planning and implementing conservation, for which standards and specifications have been developed.
  4. Ranking Component Weights – A set of five components that comprise the ranking score for an individual assessed practice schedule. The components include vulnerability, planned practice points, program priorities, resource priorities, and efficiency. The points for vulnerability, planned practice points, and efficiency are garnered from the assessment portion of CART.

North Carolina has created specific ranking pools that have been used for many years.  Ranking pools will be modified to fit the CART template.  Ranking pool customization allows states to focus funding on priority resource concerns and initiatives identified within the state.

The state ranking pools contain a set of questions that includes the following sections – applicability, category, program questions, and resource questions. Program participants will be considered for funding in all applicable ranking pools by program. 

CART Ranking Pools are customized to incorporate locally led input and will evaluate the participant’s assessed practice schedule for five main areas:

  1. Vulnerability - Site vulnerability is determined by subtracting the existing condition and existing practice scores from the thresholds.
  2. Planned Practice Effects - The planned practice score will be based on the sum of the planned practice on that land unit which address the resource concern. These two scores will be weighted by a ranking pool to address the resource concerns prioritized by that ranking pool.
  3. Resource Priorities - National and State Program Priorities are set through the Farm Bill, Secretary and Chief Priorities and Locally Led Input from Local Work Groups and State Technical Committee which address land and resource considerations. 
  4. Program Priorities - National and State Program Priorities are set through the Farm Bill, Secretary and Chief Priorities and Locally Led Input from Local Work Groups and State Technical Committee which address program purposes. 
  5. Cost Efficiency – Summation of Planned Practice Points divided by the log of the summation of Average Practice Cost. 

The 2018 Farm Bill requires that NRCS dedicate financial assistance dollars in the following categories:

  • Livestock – 50%
  • Source Water Protection – 10%
  • Wildlife – 10%
  • Socially Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers – 5%
  • Beginning Farmers or Ranchers – 5%

Conservation Activity Plans

A Conservation Activity Plan or CAP can be developed for producers to identify conservation practices needed to address a specific natural resource need. Typically, these plans are specific to certain kinds of land use such as:

  • transitioning to organic operations
  • grazing land
  • forest land

A CAP can also address a specific resource need, such nutrient management or  an air quality concern. With a CAP plan, producers can then apply for financial assistance to implement the needed conservation practices.

Program Contact

Julius George, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, 919-873-2104

Additional Information

Ready to get started?

Contact your local service center to start your application.

Find Your Local Service Center

USDA Service Centers are locations where you can connect with Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or Rural Development employees for your business needs. Enter your state and county below to find your local service center and agency offices. If this locator does not work in your browser, please visit offices.usda.gov.

How to Get Assistance

Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?

Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

how to get started

To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.

NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.

We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:

  • To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
  • To meet other eligibility certifications.

Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.

Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.

As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:

  • An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
  • A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
  • A farm tract number.

If you don’t have a farm tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.

NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.

If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.

Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.