Conservation funds available for some

If you’re a beginning farmer or rancher, have only a small farm or ranch, or are in a group that has historically been underserved by USDA, you could be eligible for special incentives to apply conservation on your land.

The 2008 Farm Bill authorized USDA to reserve 5% of Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, funds and 5% of the Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, acreage for beginning and “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers. Farmers and ranchers in those groups, as well as limited-resource farmers and ranchers, can also expect to get up to 90% cost share for planning and installing conservation practices, compared to up to 75% cost share for most other farmers and ranchers.

The 2008 Farm Bill also authorizes advance payment of up to 30% of cost-share funds for contracts to purchase materials or contract conservation work, says Ron Harris, branch chief for Community and Rural Assistance for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The upfront payment can be received before any conservation practice is applied, to help get conservation work started in a long-term contract,” Harris says. “The upfront payment and the higher cost-share rate are intended to help more people participate in USDA conservation programs — people who historically have not been able to participate.”

Harris says NRCS state offices have set up a separate funding pool in EQIP for socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers. That means farmers in those groups competed against one another for 5% of the 2009 EQIP funds. “But it doesn’t mean the funding is capped at 5%,” Harris says. Farmers in these categories can compete in both pools. It’s just a way of making sure that at least 5% of the funding is available to them.”

Key Points

• Selected farmers and ranchers have new incentives for conservation work.

• Up to 90% cost share and 30% upfront payments may be available.

• Beginning, socially disadvantaged or limited-resource producers are included.

EQIP funding

NRCS tracks the amount of funding received by the farmers and ranchers in these three groups. In 2009, Harris says, 6% of EQIP cost-share funds went to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, 15% went to beginning farmers, and 3% of EQIP funds were obligated to limited-resource farmers. In all, $731 million in EQIP funds was obligated to farmers and ranchers across the country in 2009.

“We’ve seen a higher percentage of these farmers being accepted into EQIP than in the traditional farmer and rancher group,” he says. A farmer or rancher could fit in one or all categories, so some duplication may occur, he says.

Harris says the agency is working to find trends in numbers of farmers and ranchers in each of the selected groups, but NRCS already has ag census data showing the numbers of beginning farmers and ranchers are increasing.

“Feedback has been positive on the new farm bill provisions for these groups,” Harris says, “and I think they will continue to participate more in conservation programs.”

While the farm bill reserves funds specifically for the EQIP and CSP programs, NRCS says a number of other conservation programs have funds set aside at the state level for the selected groups of farmers and ranchers.

“We are encouraging more people to participate in USDA conservation programs, and want to be sure people know they have an opportunity to take advantage of these programs,” says Larry Holmes, NRCS branch chief for Outreach.

Betts writes from Johnston, Iowa.

Note: You can determine in less than a minute whether you qualify as a limited-resource farmer by using the NRCS online assessment tool at


2009 EQIP funds obligated to beginning, socially disadvantaged and limited-resource farmers and ranchers by state.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.