NRCS Accepting Applications for 2021 Program Offerings
|Carolyn Quinn of White Stone, Va., extends her growing season using a high tunnel system purchased with assistance from NRCS.|
Richmond, Nov. 16, 2020 – Conservation is one of the few things in life that actually gets better with time. Changes on the land occur over a period of years and the programs that provide critical financial assistance evolve with each new Farm Bill. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting FY2021 applications for three updated offerings incorporating numerous changes that can benefit Virginia farmers.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This highly popular program now includes increased payment rates for adopting cover crop rotations and incentive payments to better support locally led conservation. Fund pools are available for livestock, cropland and forestry with these special initiatives:
- American Black Duck Initiative, Eastern Hellbender and Golden-winged Warbler – Focused conservation practices to restore habitat in breeding areas/native range;
- Conservation Activity Plans – Development of site-specific plans to recommend conservation practices that will address an identified natural resource need;
- High Tunnel System – Steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures to extend the growing season
in an environmentally safe manner;
- Longleaf Pine – Stand establishment and management in the Southeastern Virginia historical range;
- National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) – Targeted practices to clean up impaired streams and improve aquatic habitats in the War Branch, Mountain Run and Gap Creek watersheds;
- Northern Bobwhite in Pine Savannas and Northern Bobwhite in Working Grasslands – Management strategies to convert plantings to highly valuable pine savanna habitats and native grass restoration to address habitat loss while maintaining or improving cattle production on the land;
- On-Farm Energy – Agricultural Energy Management Plans (AgEMP) or farm energy audits to assess energy use and recommend ways to reduce it;
- Organic – Specific support for organic production and those transitioning to organic operations and an increased payment cap of $140,000 for fiscal year 2019 through 2023 contracts;
- StrikeForce – Priority ranking for cropland and livestock practices to support program participation among underserved producers in rural communities.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): This program allows agricultural producers and forest landowners to earn payments for actively managing and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, enhanced nutrient management and pollinator habitat while maintaining active agriculture production on their land. New incentives like supplemental funding for advanced grazing management and a one-time payment for developing a comprehensive conservation plan offer added benefits. Existing CSP participants may also have an opportunity to renew their contracts in the first half of the fifth year of their five-year contract.
CSP is aligned with EQIP through common applications, contracting operations, conservation planning, conservation practices and related administrative procedures. Conservation activities include soil health planning, building soil organic matter through crop rotations and practices that help producers adapt to or mitigate impacts of changing weather conditions. CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications and new soil amendments to improve water quality.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP): While the final rule hasn’t yet been released, interim guidance outlines new easement program policies that will appeal to landowners and organizations such as land trusts and purchase of development rights (PDR) programs. The Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) component no longer requires a minimum cash match, allowing landowner donations, acquisition expenses and stewardship costs to satisfy the requirement. The new program agreement structure will also increase administrative efficiency.
Landowners looking to restore and protect wetlands can visit their local NRCS office to explore opportunities available through the improved Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) component. Properties eligible for WRE include farmed wetlands that can be successfully and economically restored; former or degraded wetlands with a history of agricultural use; wetlands farmed under natural conditions; and “prior-converted” cropland converted on or before Dec. 23, 1985. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land established with trees may also be eligible for enrollment through a waiver process. NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase and 100 percent of the restoration costs for permanent easements. Landowners can also select a 30-year option and receive 50 to 75 percent of those costs.
“NRCS Virginia has a great track record of service to the state’s farm and forest landowners,” said Virginia State Conservationist Edwin Martinez Martinez. “We’re currently managing 2,316 active EQIP and CSP contracts on 492,023 acres and have protected 16,555 acres of farmland and wetlands through existing
recorded easements. Contact your local office to learn more about how we can help you reach your land management goals.”
EQIP applications will be accepted until Dec. 18, 2020. CSP and ACEP guidance is still pending, so we are unable to provide an application deadline at this time. All applicants must have farm records established with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). Advance payment options are available for historically underserved* producers.