EQIP your ground for conservation this year

EQIP your ground for conservation this year

If you shake your head at seeing Christmas wares mixed in with the Halloween candy and fall decorations, what if I told you the federal offices are already celebrating New Year’s?

However, no one is ushering in the fresh start with song or champagne toasts. Instead the beginning of a new fiscal year for your local USDA agencies mean getting ready for a new round of contracts.

Paperwork is hardly something to get that excited about, but this year Holmes SWCD is working hand in hand with our federal friends to help with their biggest time and financial commitments: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

From NRCS’s website, “The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is a voluntary conservation program that helps agricultural producers protect the environment while promoting agricultural production. With EQIP, NRCS conservation experts provide both technical and financial assistance to implement environmentally beneficial conservation practices on working agricultural land.”

EQIP is the funding source for the majority of NRCS conservation planning and practice implementation that goes on in our county.

Many local landowners and farmers have worked with our former NRCS district conservationist Chuck Reynolds on this program, but since he retired, we Soil and Water staff are on the front lines this year to get interested participants signed up.

This program is designed to address specific resource concerns on your property, whether or not you have row crops or livestock. In fact we are hoping to target two lesser-known opportunities within EQIP that could be of use to many Holmes County residents by looking at forestry and energy plans.

Forestry: EQIP can be useful in two ways if you have forested ground. The first thing it could fund is a forestry-management plan, which is a technical assessment of your woods, coupled with planning ideas to maintain the integrity of the lot or suggestions to improve it. For instance, if your goals are to manage for a certain type of wildlife and a possible timber harvest in the future, a certified forester would write up a plan suggesting management techniques that would help reach those goals.

Once a plan is in place, EQIP funding also is available to start implementing those techniques. Invasive-species control, wildlife structures, stand improvement and tree establishment are just a few of the practices available for funding under Forestry EQIP.

On Farm Energy: Dairy farmers, we’re looking at you. This is a newer initiative NRCS has developed in order to assist farmers in reducing their day-to-day expenses and conserving energy use. Like the forestry initiative, EQIP can pay for a plan first, then pay for practices. Because there are very few approved energy plans written right now, anyone interested in upgrading fans, lighting, cooling equipment or pumps would need to get an approved plan writer to first audit their energy use, then write up their findings with suggestions for improvement. EQIP would pay the plan writer, then in following years a different contract could be developed to cost-share on the suggested upgrades.

Wildlife: There are many people that love Holmes County for the ability to be close to nature, including our bountiful wildlife species. If you are interested in promoting wildlife habitat, from bees and butterflies, to turkeys, waterfowl or whitetail deer, a wildlife planner can come take a short visit to your property and come up with how to promote a more attractive wildlife space. The money EQIP provides would go toward actually creating that wildlife habitat feature on your property.

Cropland: EQIP on cropland is targeted at improving soil health and reducing erosion. Under this program you could get cost-share to work on improving drainage including waterways, sediment control basins or diversions. One other interesting potential is regarding tillage and cover crops. If you are interested in making a switch from your current system, EQIP could help fund “taking it to the next level.” So if you want to go to a no-till system, EQIP can help fund getting you started. Or if you’ve never done cover crops or have only dabbled, you could potentially receive money to implement a better system.

Livestock & Manure Management:This is how you could get a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan written. These CNMPs are sometimes necessary for contract operations, but for anyone dealing with manure, they can be a useful tool to track your nutrient management. EQIP funding would pay a technical provider to write this plan for you. Additionally EQIP is the funding source for cost-shares on manure storage or for upgrades to the headquarters area of a barn including stormwater management, animal crossings or lanes and myriad other possibilities.

The 2020 sign-up period will end by the first part of December. Signing an application does not obligate you to go ahead with the program, but we do have to have a complete application in place by the deadline if you want to be considered for this year’s funding. And there’s a bit of work involved making sure you’re eligible to participate.

If you think you might be interested, call our office so we can get you more information or put you in touch with an NRCS employee who will walk you through the details.

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