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USDA offers expanded conservation program opportunities to support climate-smart agriculture in 2022

Published on 11 January 2022

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is announcing several new and expanded opportunities for climate-smart agriculture in 2022.

Updates include nationwide availability of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Incentive Contracts option, a new and streamlined EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, and added flexibilities for producers to easily reenroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These improvements to NRCS’ working lands conservation programs, combined with continued program opportunities in South Dakota, are part of the Biden-Harris administration’s broader effort to support climate-smart agriculture.

“Climate change is happening, and America’s agricultural communities are on the frontlines,” NRCS Acting State Conservationist Rob Lawson said. “We have to continue to support and expand the adoption of conservation approaches to support producers in their work to address the climate crisis and build more resilient operations. We are continuously working to improve our programs to ensure we’re giving South Dakota farmers and ranchers the best tools to conserve natural resources.” 

EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts

EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts address priority resource concerns, including sequestering carbon and improving soil health in high-priority areas. Through these contracts, NRCS works with producers to strengthen the quality and condition of natural resources on their operations using management practices, such as irrigation water management, drainage water management, feed management and residue and tillage management that target resource concerns, including degraded soil and water quality, available water and soil erosion.

EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts offer producers annual incentive payments to implement management practices as well as conservation evaluation and monitoring activities to help manage, maintain and improve priority natural resource concerns within state high-priority areas and build on existing conservation efforts. Download the “conservation incentive contracts” fact sheet for a list of practices.

EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts last five years. The 2018 Farm Bill created the new EQIP Conservation Incentive Contract option, and it was piloted in 2021 in four states.

EQIP Cover Crop Initiative    

The NRCS is investing $38 million through the new targeted EQIP Cover Crop Initiative in 11 states to help agricultural producers mitigate climate change through the widespread adoption of cover crops. In South Dakota, the Southwest, Prairie, Central Plains, lower Missouri, lower James, Vermillion and Big Sioux resource units have been targeted. States were selected for this initial pilot based on their demonstrated demand for additional support for the cover crop practice.  

Sign-up dates will be determined at the state level, and applications will be selected for funding by Feb. 11, 2022.

New partnership announced

To complement the EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, the NRCS is also announcing a new partnership with Farmers for Soil Health, an initiative of the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association and National Pork Board. Farmers for Soil Health works to advance use of soil health practices – especially cover crops – on corn and soybean farms. The initiative has a goal of doubling the number of corn and soybean acres using cover crops to 30 million acres by 2030.

“We are pleased to see NRCS announce this new incentive program for cover crops,” said John Johnson, coordinator of Farmers for Soil Health. “Cover crops have great potential to improve soil health, improve water quality, sequester carbon and make our farms more resilient to severe climate events. We look forward to our partnership with NRCS, working to expand adoption of cover crop practices to help our farmers meet our sustainability goals.”

Other partners include the National Association of Conservation Districts, Soil Health Institute and The Sustainability Consortium.

CSP reenrollment option

The NRCS updated CSP to allow an agricultural producer to immediately reenroll in the program following an unfunded application to renew an existing contract. Previously, if a CSP participant did not reenroll the year their contract expired, they were ineligible for the program for two years.

This ineligibility was imposed on CSP participants even if their failure to sign a renewal contract was due to the unavailability of funds, which is beyond their control. The USDA is now waiving this two-year ineligibility restriction for all CSP applications.

This year, producers renewed 2,600 CSP contracts covering 3.4 million acres. Applicants with unfunded fiscal year 2022 CSP renewals will receive letters this month, notifying them they are automatically eligible to apply for future CSP funding opportunities, rather than needing to wait two years to reapply.

How to apply

The NRCS accepts applications for conservation programs – including EQIP and CSP – year-round; however, producers and landowners should apply by state-specific sign-up dates to be considered for each year’s funding. That includes Feb. 11, 2022, for EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts; Jan. 14, 2022, for the EQIP Cover Crop Initiative; and Jan. 22, 2022, for CSP. To apply, producers should contact their local USDA Service Center. 

More information

Through conservation programs, the NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help producers and landowners make conservation improvements on their land that benefit natural resources, build resiliency and contribute to the nation’s broader effort to combat the impacts of climate change. More broadly, these efforts build on others across the USDA to encourage the use of conservation practices. For example, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) recently provided $59.5 million in premium support for producers who planted cover crops on 12.2 million acres through the new Pandemic Cover Crop Program. Last week, RMA announced a new option for insurance coverage, the Post Application Coverage Endorsement, for producers who “split apply” fertilizer on corn.

Under the Biden-Harris administration, the USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity and natural resources including our soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, the USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers and private foresters.

Successfully meeting these challenges will require the USDA and our agencies to pursue a coordinated approach alongside USDA stakeholders, including state, local and tribal governments. To learn more, visit the USDA website.  end mark

From a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service news release