Accessing the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative for Conversion or Expansion
By Jeff Schahczenski
NCAT program specialist
With much help from the
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Published May 7, 2009
Updated December 18, 2009
Updated January 20, 2011
Updated January 4, 2012
Updated November 12, 2012
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released National Bulletin 300-12-8 with guidance for the fiscal year 2013 EQIP Organic Initiative (OI) on November 9, 2012. The guidance for the program can be seen on the above link to the PDF document. Additional information can be found on the national NRCS EQIP Organic Initiative webpage.
The EQIP Organic Initiative offers a significant opportunity for certified organic and transitioning organic growers to receive financial assistance in implementing conservation practices consistent with organic production practices.
NRCS may disburse up to $50 million to producers who submit successful proposals by the deadlines that vary by each state NRCS office (see the document above that provides known deadlines for some states.
There are important changes to the application process from previous years. For FY 2013, NRCS will have varied ranking periods for the EQIP Organic Initiative, as determined by each state. During ranking, NRCS will determine a threshold ranking score for each ranking period, and only eligible applications that meet or exceed the threshold in a given ranking period may considered for funding before the end of the ranking period.
For the FY 2013 sign-up, NRCS has again created a list of 64 conservation practices that states must offer. This differs from earlier years, when states were permitted to select relevant conservation practices and activities for organic systems in their state. State Conservationists may request a waiver from offering certain practices that may not be applicable for their State in FY 2013. Additionally States Conservationists may add practices, so individual state lists may vary.
Organic transitioning and exempt producers who apply for EQIP Organic Initiative funding are now required to self-certify that they will develop and implement an Organic Systems Plan (OSP). Additionally, transitioning producers must demonstrate that they have begun the process of transitioning to certified organic production.
If you wish to apply for the EQIP Organic Initiative please contact your local NRCS office for more information and to request an application. To find your local NRCS office visit the USDA Service Center Locator. Click on your state, which will then allow you to find your local NRCS office, located in the USDA Service Center.
It can be difficult to navigate your way through the regulations and lingo of USDA and NRCS. You have to be willing to "tough it out" to get through the process, so you need to be motivated to access these funds. You may want these funds because you want to become an organic producer, are in the middle of transitioning to organic production and want additional assistance, want to expand your existing organic operation, or want to expand or undertake conservation practices that NRCS can help you pay for. Also, be sure you want to become organic and are prepared to go through the process of USDA certification to do so. Visit the Marketing, Business & Risk Management page on the ATTRA website for excellent resources about organic certification, production and marketing.
In addition, think about how farming and ranching practices on your farm will need to change and how those changes relate to NRCS-defined "practices". While many people believe that an organic production system is in itself an excellent conservation system of production, your local NRCS staff may need to seek additional technical assistance to meet your needs. You can help NRCS specialists understand your organic operation. NCAT has designed a chart that helps connect what it means to be organic to the language and policy lingo of organic production (see below in the appendix). If you bring this chart with you to the NRCS office, you may help inform local NRCS staff of your resource needs so that they can assist you with a successful application for EQIP funding.
The Organic Initiative is a special effort for organic agriculture; this is still EQIP. EQIP is a COMPETITIVE program, which means that you are not guaranteed to receive funding. Your application will be ranked with others applying during the same ranking period. If you apply as an existing USDA certified organic producer, you will compete with other existing certified organic producers applying in your state. If you want to transition or are in the middle of the three year transition process, you will compete with other producers in this group.
By law, the maximum payment for your efforts that you can receive through the EQIP Organic Initiative is $20,000 per fiscal year with no more than $80,000 over a 6 year period. EQIP payments are set up by a contract that can span several years.
However, you can alternately choose to opt out of this special initiative and compete with all other non-organic producers in your state for general EQIP funds. The competition increases, but the maximum payment could rise to $300,000 over a 6 year period (it could even rise to $450,000 if you can justify it as a unique and significant environmental benefit).
Here are a few pointers:
- KNOW the program, LEARN the lingo. See the ATTRA publication Federal Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching for some general background.
- Fill out the basic application form ASAP and submit it to your local NRCS office before the deadline. Even if you don't work out every detail regarding your proposal, you MUST get this first application in by the deadline to access program funds in a given application period.
- Complete the eligibility requirements (explained below) early in the application process. This is important because you don't want to go through the work of applying without knowing that you and your land are eligible, AND you don't want to miss the application deadline.
- ASK questions of NRCS field staff. If necessary, ask for assistance from the State NRCS organic contact. (This is available online at State Offices Directory | NRCS). Remember that NRCS field staff have varying knowledge levels of the wide variety of cropping systems and production methods including organic requirements.
- Make sure you evaluate the FULL extent of the changes you wish to make to improve conservation and meet organic certification requirements, and MOST importantly make sure you can succeed at organic production.
1. If you don't have one, get a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number. If you intend to apply for more than $25,000 in benefits, the application process takes a day. The online application is available online.
2. You must be part of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) database, and you must file some level of farm records. Most commodity growers who access FSA programs already are part of this database. A web-based fact sheet for accessing this is available online (PDF).
3. Fill out the basic EQIP application form ASAP. You will need the above items to do it, along with the Adjusted Gross Income form (CCC-931). There is also an income eligibility test. Here is the legal language: A person or legal entity shall not be eligible to receive any benefit during a crop, fiscal, or program year, as appropriate, if the average adjusted gross non-farm income of the person or legal entity exceeds $1,000,000, unless not less than 66.66 percent of the average adjusted gross income of the person or legal entity is average adjusted gross farm income. The amount of any payment or benefit shall be reduced by an amount that is commensurate with the direct and indirect ownership interest in the entity of each person who has an average adjusted gross income, average adjusted gross farm income, or average adjusted gross non-farm income in excess of the applicable limitation specified.
Producers who are transitioning to organic production are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to develop a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) 138, which is a "Conservation Plan Supporting Organic Transition". NRCS will provide EQIP financial assistance to develop this plan which will assist meeting the requirements in an Organic Systems Plan required for organic certification. Take note that the value of the CAP payment will count against the EQIP OI payment limit of $20,000 per fiscal year. Three additional CAPs plans may be available to producers in 2013; Nutrient Management, Integrated Pest Management, and Irrigation Water Management.
Producers wanting to access funds through EQIP must apply through their local NRCS office. To do this, producers should visit their local office and speak with the NRCS technical specialist. If the local office cannot help, contact the State NRCS Organic Specialist (This is available online at State Offices Directory | NRCS). Existing certified organic producers will have to provide a copy of their current Organic System Plan (OSP) as part of their application and if a contract is awarded maintain this certification for the duration of the EQIP contract.
After the basic application is completed, it is important to determine the full range of conservation practices and activities that you might want to incorporate into your existing organic farm or that will help you transition to organic production. You should work with your local NRCS office to develop a suite of conservation practices and activities from those available that you feel are helpful to your organic production and bottom line. Make sure to ask what financial support for practices is available in your state. Competitive applications will address all identified resource concerns on the farm. However, because this is a legally binding commitment between you and NRCS, don’t commit to more than you are comfortable with.
This page was last updated on: November 13, 2012