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EQIP signup for 2020 funding due by Feb. 28

Farmers and forest landowners will want to plan ahead and sign up early for USDA conservation funding. Angela Biggs, USDA−Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state conservationist in Wisconsin, announced farmers and forest landowners interested in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) need to apply by February 28 for funding in 2020. Applications are being taken at all USDA Service Centers in Wisconsin.

EQIP is the primary program available to farmers and landowners for farm and woodland conservation work, offering payments for over 110 basic conservation practices. Last year, Wisconsin received over $38 million in funds for EQIP practices.

“The new Farm Bill allow NRCS to support conservation that ensures cost-effective financial assistance for improved soil health, water and air quality, and other natural resources benefits. Through EQIP, for example, the funding cap was raised for organic producers, there are new enrollment options through incentive contracts, an advance payment option is available for historically underserved producers, and much more,” Biggs said. “By getting EQIP applications in early, NRCS staff will have time to visit individual farms and assist in planning conservation practice needs.”

All eligible applications received by February 28, will be evaluated, prioritized and ranked for funding in 2020. Farmers may contact their local USDA Service Center to get started on producer eligibility and planning. Biggs reminds farmers who are interested in practices that may require permits, such as manure storage or streambank restoration, to begin planning and seeking permits as soon as possible. Applicants with shovelready projects (designs completed and permit applications submitted) will receive a higher ranking.

Sign up for several special initiatives focusing on conservation efforts

Special sign-up opportunities are also now open for Beginning Farmer, Farmstead, Local Work Group, On-Farm Energy, Organic, Seasonal High Tunnel conservation practices, Socially Disadvantaged, and Soil Health, as well as several landscape-based initiatives and historically underserved initiatives. All offer technical and financial assistance through EQIP.

★ Farmstead: NRCS helps livestock producers improve nutrient handling and clean water separation by implementing practices supporting manure storage, feedlot and barnyard runoff and clean water diversion. This special opportunity also provides technical and financial assistance for roofs and covers placed over, for example, open cattle lots.

★ On-Farm Energy: NRCS and producers develop Agricultural Energy Management Plans (AgEMP) or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. Audit data is used to plan, develop and implement energy conservation recommendations.

★ Organic: NRCS helps certified organic growers and producers, working to achieve organic certification, install conservation practices to address resource concerns on organic operations.

★ Seasonal High Tunnel (Hoop House): NRCS helps producers plan and implement high tunnels - steelframed, polyethylene-covered structures that extend growing seasons in an environmentally safe manner. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality, fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment and better air quality due to fewer vehicles being needed to transport crops. Supporting conservation practices, such as grassed waterways and diversions, are available to address resource concerns on operations with Seasonal High Tunnel structures.

★ Honey Bee: The upper Midwest is the resting ground for over 65 percent of commercially managed honey bees in the country. The NRCS is helping farmers and landowners implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. Pasture management, wildlife habitat and appropriate cover crops are used as tools to improve the health of our honey bees, which support more than $15 billion worth of agricultural production.

★ Source Water Protection: Four areas of Wisconsin with high concentrations of public water systems experiencing elevated nitrate levels will be eligible for EQIP practices targeting these concerns. In northwest Wisconsin, the Kinnickinnic River, Duncan Creek, Trout Creek and Lake Wissota watersheds will be included. In central Wisconsin, the effort focuses on the Plover River, Fourmile Creek and Waupaca River watersheds. The Turtle Creek watershed in Rock and Walworth Counties is also included.

★ Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), NRCS offers financial assistance to agricultural producers for implementing practices that improve water quality in selected watersheds. Eligible watersheds in Wisconsin include the Door-Kewaunee Rivers, Lower Fox River, Manitowoc-Sheboygan, Milwaukee River, Upper Fox River, Wolf River and Lake Winnebago. Financial assistance is also available in the entire Lake Superior and Lake Michigan basins of Wisconsin to address invasive species.

★ National Water Quality Initiative: The National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) is designed to help individual agricultural producers take actions to reduce the runoff of sediment, nutrients and pathogens into waterways where water quality is a critical concern. The goal is to implement conservation practices in focused watersheds in a concentrated area so that agriculture no longer contributes to the impairment of water bodies within these priority watersheds. Eligible watersheds include Bear Lake-Little Wolf River in Waupaca County and North Branch Little River in Oconto County.

★ Regional Conservation Partnership Program: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners. NRCS provides assistance to producers through partnership agreements and through program contracts or easement agreements. Current active projects for water quality improvement are located within the Oconomowoc River watershed, the Baraboo River watershed and portions of the Pecatonica River watershed in Lafayette County. Projects to improve fish and wildlife habitat include monarch habitat statewide, stream and riparian habitat in the Driftless Area and efforts in the Little Plover River watershed to conserve water and improve habitat.

★ Soil Health Initiative: Soil is a living and life giving natural resource. By farming using soil health principles and systems that include no-till, cover cropping and diverse rotations, more and more farmers are increasing their soil’s organic matter and improving microbial activity.

Landowners interested in applying for EQIP funding should contact their local NRCS office at the USDA Service Center for their county (925 Donald St., Medford, 715-748-4121). For more information, visit www.wi.nrcs.