Notice of Public Comment Period New Environmental Quality Incentives Program Rule - Comments due Feb. 10, 2015
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a rule that outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of USDA’s largest conservation programs. The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.
USDA has established a 60-day comment period for the rule. The rule is available in the Federal Register and regulations.gov on Friday, Dec. 12. Beginning Friday, public comments can be submitted through regulations.gov or by mailing them. Comments are due by Feb. 10, 2015. Full details are in the Federal Register notice.
According to USDA, the changes are intended to simplify the EQIP regulation regarding conservation practice scheduling, payment limitations and other administrative actions. Vilsack said USDA has enhanced EQIP by streamlining the delivery of technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers and forest landowners nationwide.
Highlights of program changes in this rule include the following:
- Requires at least 5 percent of available EQIP funds be targeted for conservation practices that promote wildlife habitat;
- Establishes EQIP as a contributing program for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program;
- Increases the advanced payment from 30 percent to 50 percent for eligible historically underserved producers, including beginning farmers, to help purchase material or contract services;
- Targets assistance to veteran farmers and ranchers including eligibility for the new 50 percent advance payment and up to 90 percent of the cost to implement EQIP conservation practices;
- Increases the payment limitation for EQIP from $300,000 to a maximum of $450,000 for benefits received during 2014-2018 and removes the option for a waiver to exceed payment limitations;
- Eliminates the requirement for a program contract to remain in place for one year after the last practice has been implemented, allowing practices to be scheduled through the tenth year of a contract;
- Includes an option to waive the irrigation history requirement under certain conditions;
- Incorporates the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program functions into EQIP.
This rule follows the publication of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) interim final rule in the Federal Register on November 5. USDA is also seeking comments for the CSP rule.
EQIP is a voluntary program that provides funds and technical assistance for improved conservation practices based on identified natural resource concerns affecting qualified land uses. EQIP conservation practices include, but are not limited to: pasture and hayland planting, heavy use areas, waste storage facilities, terracing, pest management, tree planting, organic crop assistance, and wildlife habitat management. This list will vary based on locally prioritized conservation practices.
This program provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. NRCS State Conservationist Terrance O. Rudolph announced a single sign up for the 2015 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and all Georgia producers who wish to be considered for financial assistance had to apply by December 19, 2014. In previous years, customers had to make multiple office visits to apply for the different sign ups under EQIP as funding became available. For more information about EQIP or other technical or financial assistance programs offered by NRCS, please contact your local service center: http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs. More information on NRCS conservation programs can be found at http://www.ga.nrcs.usda.gov under the Programs tab.